Photo/Illutration Jacinda Ardern speaks in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun in April 2022. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Jacinda Ardern made her final official appearance as the prime minister of New Zealand on Jan. 24.

She granted me an exclusive interview when she visited Japan in April last year.

It was the first time I met her in person, but she didn’t feel like a stranger at all as I’d been following her on social media and watching her news conferences practically every day on live streaming services.

Regional security was the first subject I brought up in the interview. When I asked Ardern about her political convictions, she told me that she does not want to change her values because of her position as prime minister.

"Why should it be different than what we teach our children?" she said.

She said it would never do to teach her daughter to “be kind to people” if she acted ruthlessly as a politician; kindness and strength must go together.

Ardern continued to speak passionately beyond the scheduled time limit.

When she abruptly announced her resignation, she said she “no longer had enough in the tank” to do the job. Hearing that remark, I thought about the difficulty of remaining “kind and strong.”

During her five and a half years in office, she had to battle a series of grave crises that included a terrorist attack on mosques, a volcanic eruption and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The year after Ardern became prime minister, she gave birth to her daughter, attracting global attention as a working mother and the leader of a nation.

But her popularity dipped as the public’s discontent grew over the rising prices of goods and housing. I imagine Ardern must have been troubled by the gap in the levels of approval she received at home and abroad.

Results from a survey on hate crime that a local research group conducted highlight an issue of growing concern for New Zealand. Since about two years ago, according to the survey, there has been a rapid rise in anonymous social media posts inciting acts of violence against Ardern and others.

Does this mean a social rift is now growing even in New Zealand, where tolerance and diversity have been traditionally valued?

At one time, 90 percent of the people supported the government’s COVID control policy. Two years and three months ago, the ruling party also won the nation’s general election in a landslide.

Is public opinion so severe and so fickle, too? There is the saying that “a week is a long time in politics.” How true.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 26

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.