Helen Elizabeth Clark, ONZ SSI (born 26 February 1950) is a New Zealand politician, who was the 37th Prime Minister of New Zealand serving three consecutive terms from 1999 to 2008. She was the first woman elected, at a general election, as the Prime Minister, and was the fifth longest serving person to hold that office. She has been Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the third-highest UN position, since 2009.
Clark graduated from the University of Auckland in 1974 and became political in her teenage years, involving herself in the New Zealand Labour Party. While a junior lecturer at the University in the early 1970s, Clark entered local politics in 1974 in Auckland but was not elected to any position. She was elected to Parliament for the Mount Albert electorate in 1981, a position she held until her resignation in 2009. During the 1980s and early 90s, Clark held numerous Cabinet positions in the Fourth Labour government, including Minister of Housing, Minister of Health and Minister of Conservation. She held the position of Deputy Prime Minister for a year.
After Labour's strong showing in the 1993 election, Clark challenged the Labour leadership of Mike Moore and won, becoming the Leader of the Opposition. After failing to win the 1996 election, she led the Labour Party to a sweeping victory in the 1999 election. As Prime Minister of the Fifth Labour Government of New Zealand, Clark's government presided over nearly a decade of economic growth, while still maintaining a large internal government deficit.
Clark's government implemented several major economic initiatives including Kiwibank, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme and KiwiSaver. Her government's other major policies included the Working for Families package, increasing the minimum wage 5% a year, interest-free student loans, creation of District Health Boards, the introduction of a number of tax credits, overhauling the secondary school qualifications by introducing NCEA, and the introduction of fourteen weeks’ parental leave. Her government also introduced the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 which caused major controversy and was eventually repealed in 2011.
Clark sent troops to the Afghanistan War, but did not contribute combat troops to the Iraq War although some medical and engineering units were sent. Her agenda reflected the priorities of liberal internationalism, especially the promotion of democracy and human rights; the strengthening of the role of the United Nations; the advancement of antimilitarism and disarmament; and the encouragement of free trade. Clark advocated a number of free trade agreements with major trading partners, including becoming the first developed nation to sign such an agreement with China, and ordered a military deployment to the 2006 East Timorese crisis alongside international partners.
Her government was defeated in the 2008 election and she resigned as Prime Minister and Labour Party leader. She resigned from Parliament in April 2009 from her Mount Albert electorate and was replaced by David Shearer to take up the post of Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. Forbes magazine ranked her 20th most powerful woman in the world in 2006 and 50th in 2012.