Selfies, sendoffs and star power as Jacinda Ardern has her last day in the sun

Selfies, sendoffs and star power as Jacinda Ardern has her last day in the sun.

Selfies,  sendoffs and star power, Jacinda Ardern, her last day

From the moment of her arrival, Jacinda Ardern is surrounded by a crush of people: hundreds gather to ask for final selfies, record video messages for friends and relatives, or simply watch her pass by. A group of running children weaves through bystanders’ legs, pushing for a better view.

Over and over, she obliges, smiling for cameraphones, asking people’s names and jobs, cracking jokes, signing a worn blue and yellow basketball for a boy who pushes through the crowd.

A politician who always excelled at creating moments of humour and human connection, Ardern’s much-discussed star power was firmly on display in the North Island village of Rātana on Tuesday for her last formal engagement as the prime minister of New Zealand.

New Zealand – and the world – is still reckoning with Ardern’s shock departure, the whirlwind selection of her replacement, and the question of how to define her political legacy. On her final full day as the country’s leader, however, some of the thornier and more controversial questions of her political legacy and legislative record seemed to fade into the background.

Rātana traditionally marks the beginning of New Zealand’s political year, with party leaders descending on the village to give their first major speeches after the summer break. This year was different, it also marked the ending of an era.

The scenes recalled some of the electric fandom Ardern provoked when she first took the leadership in 2017 – greeted by scrums of hopeful selfie-takers and fans. Five years of difficult decisions and political struggles had worn much of that glitter away, particularly in the polls, where voters had punished the prime minister and her party for a year of economic headwinds.

But on Tuesday, the shine was back on. A few metres away, the incoming prime minister Chris Hipkins stands in a circle of reporters, answering questions – for the most part, the crowd doesn’t look his way.

There was no sign on Tuesday of the small, furious knot of protesters who had become an increasingly recurrent presence at Ardern’s public appearances – sometimes bearing signs and anti-vaccine slogans, other times chasing her van and screaming obscenities.

Ardern has said threats and abuse were not contributing factors to her resignation, but her departure has still prompted the start of an uncomfortable reckoning in New Zealand with the scope and volume of misogynistic, violent rhetoric, abuse and threats channelled the leader’s way. Speaking briefly to reporters, she said that her enduring experience of the job had been positive.

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