Jacinda Ardern burnishes leadership after Christchurch carnage

Jacinda Ardern burnishes leadership after Christchurch carnageJacinda Ardern burnishes leadership after Christchurch carnage
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The calm and compassion shown by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in response to the killing of 50...

The calm and compassion shown by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in response to the killing of 50 Muslims by a suspected white supremacist has burnished the credentials of a leader whose youth and celebrity had given critics' doubts.In the hours after the carnage in Christchurch on Friday left New Zealanders reeling, the 38-year-old Ardern struck all the right notes.

She promptly labelled the worst peacetime mass killing in New Zealand as terrorism, and set about reassuring a nation that has been largely unscathed by the violence and fears that have afflicted other countries in the past two decades.

A day after the attack, Ardern led a multi-party group to visit grieving families and Muslim community members. Wearing a black head scarf, she hugged relatives and let them set the pace and agenda as she listened and offered comfort.

"The Prime Minister, when she came wearing her scarf, that was big for us," said Dalia Mohamed, who was mourning Hussein Mustafa, the father-in-law of her daughter and a volunteer at the Al Noor mosque where more than 40 people died.Ardern also promptly made tightening gun laws, which may prove politically difficult, a priority for her government.

"Ardern's performance has been extraordinary - and I believe she will be strongly lauded for it both domestically and internationally," said political commentator Bryce Edwards of Victoria University in Wellington. Ardern burst into prominence during New Zealand's 2017 election, feted globally as part of a new wave of progressive, young leaders that included France's Emmanuel Macron and Canada's Justin Trudeau.

Ardern's pregnancy, maternity leave and the birth of her daughter while in office also set her apart, with many people seeing it as symbolising progress for women in leadership roles. Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto, in 1990, is the only other government leader to have given birth in office.

Appearing on US talk shows and taking her infant daughter onto the floor of the United Nations last year boosted her popularity. Ardern's stratospheric rise to become the country's youngest Prime Minister and third woman to hold the office resulted in New Zealanders coining the phrase "Jacinda-mania".

-John Mair and Praveen Menon

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