Jacinda Ardern: New Zealand's female PM takes on Apec

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At 37, New Zealand's new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will be a stark contrast to the other leaders at this year's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders' forum.

She DJs, takes selfies, and goes on women's marches. But when it comes to her priorities, policies and style of leadership how does she compare?


Ms Ardern's rise has been remarkable. She was elected at only 28 and is now New Zealand's youngest prime minister since 1856.

There is a 42-year age gap between Ms Ardern, the youngest APEC leader, and the oldest one, Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski who is 79.


Her victory in New Zealand makes her the country's third female prime minister, after Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark.

She speaks up on women's issues such as the legal status of abortion, equal pay and the right to keep child-bearing plans private from employers.

Two other women will join Arden at the leaders' summit, Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam and President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet.

Taiwan's first female president Tsai Ing-wen won't be there, but a special envoy attends Apec representing "Chinese Taipei" as the dispute over its status means Taiwan takes part as an economic rather than a political entity.


Ms Ardern has spoken about her anxiety on a number of occasions and before she got the top job speculated that it might impede her progress.

Her openness about personal challenges is a stark contrast to most other leaders at the summit.

Hun Sen, Cambodia's "strongman" prime minister, has unashamedly strident and defiant tone when it comes to defending himself against accusations of authoritarianism and intimidating opponents.

"I not only weaken the opposition, I'm going to make them dead ... and if anyone is strong enough to try to hold a demonstration, I will beat all those dogs and put them in a cage," he said in 2011.

More high profile at Apec, US President Donald Trump's outspoken personal style needs little introduction.


Ms Ardern renounced her faith in her twenties because of the Mormon Church's stance on LGBT issues, which she is a vocal supporter of and voted for the marriage equality bill in 2013.

In more than half of the 21 Apec countries it is illegal to have a same-sex marriage. In Brunei, gay sex is criminalised under civil law as well as under Brunei's Sharia Penal Code, which prescribes harsh penalties.

Some member states are on the brink of change, such as Chile, where Michelle Bachelet has signed a bill that would legalise same-sex marriage.


Ms Ardern has made her commitments clear and they are a stark contrast to those of the US president, for example.

They include a boost to conservation funding, a tree planting programme, a Zero Carbon Act and investment in safe walking and cycling.

In June, Mr Trump said the US would withdraw from the Paris climate deal.

He has since said he would, "begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States" - a suggestion dismissed by other powers.

Mr Trump is not the only sceptic. In October, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, gave a speech at a climate sceptic think tank, entitled "Daring to Doubt".

Australia's sitting Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull has also been criticised for failing to confront climate-change deniers in his party.


On some subjects, such as education, Ms Ardern finds common ground with her Apec colleagues.

Japan's prime minister pledged to make education a priority after he was re-elected in last month's snap election. However, opposition parties, who have long campaigned on the issue, are raising questions about the sincerity of this plan.

Across the Asia-Pacific region the majority of university students are still fee paying.

However, Taiwan offers low cost tuition and in August Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed a new law providing free education for more than a million students in public tertiary and vocational schools nationwide.


In September, The Wall Street Journal compared Jacinda Ardern with US President Donald Trump for her stance on immigration.

"Meet New Zealand's Justin Trudeau - except she's more like Trump on immigration," it said.

Ms Ardern is not going to build a wall and she has not supported a travel ban like Trump, but she does want to cut annual net migration by up to 30,000 people a year. It's a policy she inherited from her predecessor.

She cites infrastructure issues and the housing crisis as a reason but she has insisted this will not affect New Zealand's refugees.

She has even said New Zealand must be prepared to take in "climate change refugees" from surrounding island nations.

It remains to be seen how difficult it will be for her to pursue these ambitions, considering Labour is in coalition. Last month, New Zealand's Immigration and Protection Tribunal rejected applications by families from the island nation of Tuvalu who sought to remain citing climate change.

So, liberal, casual and the newest leader in the Apec pack Ms Ardern is now part of a select group of women in power - but will she leave the summit with more friends or foes?

Graphics produced by Davies Surya and Mayuri Mei Lin.