A leader by default from a party that was lagging way behind in popularity, she went on to provide New Zealand with her own stamp of leadership.
In 2017, upon becoming the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern acknowledged there will be “good days and bad days”.
She did well on the good days- a young leader who was compassionate when needed and gutsy when the situation called for it.
But she has done even better in the dark days, following the shooting in Christchurch that killed 50 people.
ASEAN heads of states could certainly learn from Jacinda’s commitment to doing the right thing as opposed to toeing the political patronage.
She announced reforms to gun laws in New Zealand, embraced the victims as New Zealanders, dismissed the shooter as not “one of them” and has announced financial compensation for families of the victims irrespective of their immigration status.
In direct contrast, Southeast Asia has seen and continues to see grave violations of rights against its own people: the massacre of the Rohingya in Burma, extra-judicial killings in the Philippines, attacks on human rights defenders in Cambodia or the Malaysian government’s continued use of the Sedition Act despite election promises to repeal the law.
Jacinda delivered when her country was in need of a leader. Here, we baulk under the fear of losing out on our largest vote bank.
Our inability to ratify The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the current investigation into organisers of the Women’s Day March clearly show we have a long way to go in being decisive.
The continued demonising of the LGBT community, our inability to embrace the refugees, our hostility towards the stateless persons including children, our contempt for migrant workers, our discrimination against those living with HIV are just some of the many examples where we are falling short of Jacinda’s class act as a leader for all who have chosen to make New Zealand their home.
When she visited the families of the victims in mosques, Jacinda did not just cover her hair but also assured them of a quick burial for the deceased with the government absorbing the costs.
This showed she understood their custom.
It would go a long way if we could make a concerted and honest attempt to understand the needs and aspirations of our people.