Washington: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has used her Harvard University Commencement address in Boston to echo former Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s call to deepen democracy, as she paid scintillating tributes to the departed Pakistani leader.
Bhutto, the “daughter of Pakistan,” was twice elected prime minister and was assassinated on December 27, 2007, in a gun and bomb attack at a rally in Rawalpindi.
“In June 1989, the prime minister of Pakistan stood on this spot and delivered the commencement address titled Democratic Nations Must Unite. She spoke about her journey, the importance of citizenry, representative government, human rights and democracy,” PM Ardern said her address to more than a thousand students on Thursday.
“I met Benazir Bhutto in Geneva in June of 2007. We both attended a conference that drew together progressive parties from around the world. Seven months later she was assassinated,” Ardern told the gathering.
“There will be opinions and differing perspectives written about all of us as political leaders. Two things that history will not contest about Benazir Bhutto. She was the first Muslim female Prime Minister elected in an Islamic country, when a woman in power was a rare thing. She was also the first to give birth in office. The second and only other leader to have given birth in office almost 30 years later, was me.”
Ms. Ardern said her daughter, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford, was born on June 21, 2018, Benazir Bhutto’s birthday.
“The path she carved as a woman feels as relevant today as it was decades ago, and so too is the message she shared here, in this place,” Ardern said about Ms. Bhutto’s 1989 commencement address.
“She said part way through her speech in 1989 the following: ‘We must realise that democracy can be fragile’,” Ardern said. “Now I read those words as I sat in my office in Wellington, New Zealand, a world away from Pakistan. And while the reasons that gave rise for her words then were vastly different, they still ring true.”
“Democracy can be fragile. This imperfect but precious way that we organise ourselves, that has been created to give equal voice to the weak and to the strong, that is designed to help drive consensus – it is fragile.”
“This imperfect but precious way that we organize ourselves, that has been created to give equal voice to the weak and to the strong, that is designed to help drive consensus – it is fragile,” Ms Ardern said.
“For years it feels as though we have assumed that the fragility of democracy was determined by duration,” she said.
“That somehow the strength of your democracy was like a marriage; the longer you’d been in it, the more likely it was to stick. But that takes so much for granted.”
In 2019, the New Zealand prime minister won worldwide praise for the way she handled the situation in the wake of the deadly attack on a Christchurch mosque as she stood behind and comforted the grieving Muslim community.