Home Latest News Benazir Bhutto’s Struggle as Relevant Today as it was Decades Ago: Jacinda Ardern

Benazir Bhutto’s Struggle as Relevant Today as it was Decades Ago: Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand prime minister evokes Pakistan’s first female prime minister to stress the many things that connect people regardless of their backgrounds

by Staff Report

File photo of New Zealand P.M. Jacinda Ardern. Marty Melville—AFP

Speaking at Harvard University during its annual commencement address, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday recalled assassinated Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto telling the same varsity that democracy was “fragile” and stressed on the need for debate and dialogue.

“In June 1989 the prime minister of Pakistan stood on this spot and delivered the commencement address titled ‘Democratic Nations Must Unite’,” she said. “She spoke about her journey, the importance of citizenry, representative government, human rights, and democracy. I met Benazir Bhutto in Geneva in June of 2007. We both attended a conference that drew together progressive parties from around the world. Just seven months later she was assassinated,” she added.

Noting that there would always be differing perspectives on all political leaders, she said that there were two things about Benazir that no one could ever contest. “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,” she said.

“The second and only other leader to have given birth in office almost 30 years later, was me. My daughter, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford, was born on June 21, 2018; Benazir Bhutto’s birthday,” she added, noting that there were “some moments” that remind you of the many things that connect humanity despite vastly different histories and experiences.

“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. She said partway through her speech in 1989 the following: ‘We must realize that democracy… can be fragile’,” she said, quoting the former Pakistani leader. “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,” she said.

Describing democracy as “imperfect but precious”, she said it had been designed to give equal voice to the weak and the strong. “For years it feels as though we have assumed that the fragility of democracy was determined by duration. 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,” she said, adding that if trust in institutions that could take decades to build up could also be torn down within years.

“It ignores what happens, when regardless of how long your democracy has been tried and tested—when facts are turned into fiction, and fiction turned into fact, you stop debating ideas and you start debating conspiracy. It ignores the reality of what we are now being confronted by every single day,” she warned.

Directing her criticism at online disinformation, she called on tech companies to do more to stop the online spread of conspiracy theories. “The time has come for social media companies and other online providers to recognize their power and to act on it,” she said, as she called for “kindness” and greater efforts to bridge differences. “What we do as individuals in these spaces matters too … we are the richer for our difference, and poorer for our division,” she said.

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