Pivoting away from one person shows | Daily News

Pivoting away from one person shows

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing her resignation on January 19.
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing her resignation on January 19.

Politics cannot be separated from personalities. This was apparently the lesson imparted to Sri Lankans last year after the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Presidency turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

Before anything else happened, that presidency had to end. Similar issues crop up all the time in other countries and these days they want the Peruvian President to relinquish her post. People are prepared to die to achieve that end.

In Zimbabwe they say that Emerson Managaguwa has to go before the country thinks about democracy and decency seriously. In New Zealand Jacinda Arden resigned.

That’s interesting. She is deified in most parts of the world as a sensitive voice that speaks on behalf of the underprivileged. But yet in New Zealand her popularity plummeted and it became increasingly clear that she would probably lose the general elections scheduled for October this year.

Does that mean that the major issues in New Zealand are all tied to Jacinda Arden? In the few countries mentioned above, do politics revolve around one person, and if so what good does democracy do in a country that is so dependent on one person’s exit to change course?



But yet, we have been here before. Sri Lanka, warts and all has been a functioning democracy for a long time. But the crisis last year was precipitated due to a president who did not know politics.

He was clearly out of his depth and was flailing. The Gota-go-home campaign was the rallying cry for protests that were generated primarily because of an unprecedented economic meltdown.

Ergo the question arises, was there no way of addressing tense issues without making Gotabaya Rajapaksa the primary target? Everybody had decided that he must go first.

Demonstrators pull down a fence while trying to enter Peru's Arequipa's Airport.

It’s the same dynamic that operates today in Peru, in New Zealand and Zimbabwe. One person is deemed to be an incubus, and in New Zealand at least in the eyes of some, this was Arden. Others may say that this is unfair by her. She was extremely popular around the globe as a leader who showed a shining path for everyone that believes in liberal values, so why would she be bad for New Zealand?

The problem was that the people of New Zealand did not seem to show the same amount of enthusiasm for her as the rest of the world did.

When her popularity ratings plummeted, she seemed to have had second thoughts about running again for the job of prime minister. She said in a somewhat tearful farewell speech that she does not have enough energy in the tank, and that’s why she thinks it is not fair for her to keep the job she had been doing with great dedication for such a long time.

But the right-wing in New Zealand were not convinced. They are of the view that she was a tyrant who became so unpopular that she had to quit before the people gave her marching orders when they voted. So, can it be argued that there are similarities between Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Jacinda Arden? Most would say that it would be a contrast between chalk and cheese.



Gotabaya Rajapaksa did not win many friends in his brief tenure either here or abroad. He resigned after a protest campaign acquired considerable momentum, and had turned somewhat violent. No similarities with Arden, but the fact remains that both leaders resigned before their tenure was done.

Of course Arden had won two elections and had proved that she had political savvy because winning a second term is never easy. Gotabaya Rajapaksa never won a second term though under his leadership his party won a General Election not very long after he had been elected president.

Though certainly they are chalk and cheese, both of them are proof that leaders who enjoy some measure of popularity at a given time may become such contentious figures that any future political exercise involving them becomes a referendum on them.

Peru’s problem today is that there are widespread protests demanding that the president leave office. In Zimbabwe the Opposition has appealed to the international community to focus on the country, because the incumbent president they say has given the Opposition no fair opportunity to compete for power.

In any number of countries in which a single personality becomes the central figure attracting adulation or hate, the other issues are subsumed until there is a decision on the one person who is deemed to be the important public figure on whom a decision ought to be taken first before any other issue is addressed.

Does that mean that the real issues are secondary in such countries and that it’s the leadership figure that’s the single political bone of contention? Hardly.

Though Gotabaya Rajapaksa is no longer the president, the issues that came to the fore during his brief but troubled tenure have not vanished or become irrelevant in any way shape or form. The issues of debt and the paucity of foreign currency reserves still remain.

But the fact that the former president resigned made sure that politics came back to an even keel. Or, it can be said, that steam was let off the pressure cooker’s escape valve.

The people of Zimbabwe and Peru it seems are yearning for such a release. They labour under no illusion that all their problems would be solved if their current leader is deposed.

How about Jacinda Arden? Some folk in the country still lament that she had to resign, which of course proves that there is nowhere near the universal resentment that seems to be associated with some leaders such as Sri Lanka’s recently vilified former president, and Peru’s current president, and perhaps Zimbabwe’s current president too.



But ‘near universal vilification’ is not necessary. Jacinda Arden decided to resign despite the fact that there were no protest campaigns demanding her resignation. However, a lot of people refuse to believe her version of events about the resignation which is that she doesn’t have ‘enough in the tank’ or enough energy to face another grueling campaign and win a national election. This proves that the relative degree of unpopularity doesn’t matter. If a single leader becomes the central figure in a country to the extent that nothing can be done until a decision is taken on his or her mere presence, all other issues have to wait until that issue is addressed and resolved.

Is this a good way to proceed when a nation is in crisis? Shouldn’t the issues and not the leadership problem be addressed first, or at least shouldn’t equal importance be accorded to the issues of the day as are given the issues of leadership?

Theoretically that may make sense. But in reality politics never works that way. Some problems are identified with single leaders and most often that is entirely justified. In cases when such an assessment is not entirely justified, there is still enough reason to address the leadership problem before any other issue is deemed as important.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure has ended. He will never be back in contention and that can safely be taken as a given. Can the same be said of Jacinda Arden? Even though she has resigned, a good proportion of New Zealanders are still nostalgic about her unique tenure, and consider her a good leader of the kind New Zealand never had.

That doesn’t mean that she didn’t become widely unpopular, perhaps among a clear majority of New Zealanders. But her abrupt resignation probably means that she considers herself damaged goods however great a leader the world considers her to be. She would very probably never run again for the top job in New Zealand and would probably retire from active politics altogether never to return again to that arena. Did her star burn out too soon? It’s merely a rhetorical question in the context of the fact that she became the central political issue in her country. When that happens to any leader in any country, generally only one outcome is possible, as any number of people in countries that saw the back of contentious leaders would testify to.



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