I can't help recognising a pattern in the last week's resignation of Jacinda Ardern less than a year before the end of her 2nd term: John Key did the same near the end of his 3rd.

What happens next is that their parties elect a new leader who automatically becomes the new PM (Bill English after Key and Chris Hipkins after Ardern).

Isn't it tactically beneficial to the new party leader/PM to be in power during the months leading to the elections — to run in the elections already having the experience and thus have chances to earn stronger support than they would have otherwise?

That said, can the real motive of those resignations be to let the new party leaders be the PM for some time before they run in the elections?

While the resigning PMs did provide reasons (Key/his family missing each other, low level in the Ardern's "tank"), I am not inclined to buy those. Heck, they were near the finish of their not first term, they had been doing well for many years — couldn't they just run a few more months and fulfill their commitment, make it to the finish?

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    Also Boris Yeltsin! Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 0:45

1 Answer 1


Well yes, Key even explicitly mentioned this factor in his resignation speech:

It gives the Cabinet and caucus plenty of time to settle in with a new leader before heading into the next election with a proud record of strong economic management, a commitment to the most vulnerable in our society and lots of ideas to keep lifting New Zealanders up in the world.

It would be easy to say I have made this decision solely to rediscover the personal and family life I once had, and that is a factor, but it is one among many.

Over the years I have observed many leaders who, in a similar position, fail to take this step.

I can understand why. It is a hard job to leave. 

But, for me and the National Party, this is a good time to go. Party membership is high and the party is well-funded. The caucus is talented and eager to serve, and one of the achievements of which I am proud is having built with my colleagues a Cabinet team that is capable, committed and cohesive.

Ardern wasn't as explicit, but she did mention it in passing:

My opportunity to thank the many people I need to will likely come in April when I depart Parliament, 15 years after having been sworn in. Till then, I see my role to help the Labour Party, who I consider to be my family, navigate this next phase; and then, to leave the next colleague who takes on this role, all the space they need to make their mark.

As for what the leaders' 'real motive' is - I think it's fair to say that their relative decisions will have come as a combination of reasons. If a leader is intending to leave the leadership position anyway; as both Key and Ardern suggested, it seems disingenuous to lead their party through an election campaign when their heart isn't in it and they have no intention to stay in the role to deliver on any of the promises they are making. The best course of action, not just for their party, but for their country - I would have thought - would be to allow a new leader time to establish themselves before facing the country at the ballot box.

So yes, it's definitely a consideration that factored into the timing of the resignation announcements of both leaders, but I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing for them to want to ensure that the party they have supported during their political careers has a stable transition of power and the best possible opportunity to establish a coherent new leadership before the next election.

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    Yup. To add to the penultimate paragraph: voters' choices are often determined (to different extents depending on the electoral system) by who the party leaders are. If you vote for a party because you want their leader to be PM, only for that leader to become PM and then resign immediately, you may feel cheated. Indeed, in the UK (for example), changes of PM without an election - while entirely proper from a constitutional standpoint - are often accompanied by calls for an election in order to give the new PM an "official" mandate (which may backfire, hence the reluctance to do this). Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 10:50

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