New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern was caught on a hot mic on Tuesday using a vulgarity against a rival politician, in a rare blunder for a leader known for her skill at debating and calm, measured responses.
After five years as prime minister, Ms Ardern faces a tough election campaign in 2023.
Her liberal Labour Party won re-election two years ago in a landslide of historic proportions, but recent polls have put her party behind its conservative rivals.
The comment came after David Seymour, who leads the libertarian ACT party, peppered Ms Ardern with questions about her government’s record for about seven minutes during parliament’s question time, which allows for spirited debate between rival parties.
As an aside to her deputy Grant Robertson, Ms Ardern said what sounded like “He’s such an arrogant prick”, after sitting down.
Ms Ardern’s office said she apologised to Mr Seymour for the comment.
When asked by The Associated Press to clarify, Ms Ardern’s office did not dispute the comment. In an interview with the AP, Mr Seymour said she had used those words.
“I’m absolutely shocked and astonished at her use of language,” Mr Seymour said. “It’s very out of character for Jacinda, and I’ve personally known her for 11 years.”
He said it was also ironic because his question to the prime minister had been about whether she had ever admitted a mistake as leader and then fixed it.
“And she couldn’t give a single example of when she’s admitted she’s wrong and apologised,” Mr Seymour said.
Mr Seymour said that in her text Ms Ardern wrote that she “apologised, she shouldn’t have made the comments, and that, as her mum said, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it”.
Mr Seymour, who said he admired some of Ms Ardern’s political skills immensely, said he had replied to her thanking her for the apology and wishing her a very merry Christmas.