WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Chris Hipkins, who led New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to replace Jacinda Ardern as the country’s next prime minister after emerging as the only candidate nominated to lead the Labour Party, the party said on Saturday, January 21.
Hipkins is expected to be confirmed as the new leader at a meeting of Labour’s 64 lawmakers, or Caucus, on Sunday, January 22.
“I think we’re an incredibly strong team,” Hipkins told a news conference after being announced as the sole candidate.
“We’ve gone through this process with unity and we’ll continue to do that. I’m feeling really fortunate to be working with such an amazing group of people who have a real commitment to the service of the people of New Zealand.”
Hipkins would not be drawn on his policy plans. A cabinet reshuffle proposed by Ardern would go ahead, but Finance Minister Grant Robertson was likely to continue in the role, he said.
He said he had spoken to Australia Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who tweeted the two had had “a warm discussion.”
In a surprise announcement on Thursday, January 19, Ardern said she had “no more in the tank” to lead the country and would step down and not seek reelection.
First elected to parliament for the Labour Party in 2008, the 44-year-old Hipkins became a household name fronting the government’s response to the pandemic after being appointed minister for COVID-19 in November 2020.
Hipkins is currently minister for police, education and public service, as well as leader of the House.
A Horizon Research snap poll obtained by local media organization Stuff on Friday showed that Hipkins was the most popular potential candidate among voters, with the backing of 26% of those surveyed.
Hipkins’ confirmation by Labour lawmakers at a meeting on Sunday afternoon is expected to be a formality. Ardern will then tender her resignation to the Governor General before Hipkins is appointed.
If confirmed, Hipkins will be prime minister until the party’s term ends.
A general election will be held on October 14, with some opinion polls showing Labour will struggle to hold on to power.
A Taxpayers’ Union-Curia poll released Friday based on data from before Ardern’s announcement she would resign showed Labour’s popularity falling to 31.7%, while the opposition New Zealand National Party was backed by 37.2% of respondents.
New Zealand Green Party, Labour’s traditional coalition partner, said in a statement that they were looking forward to working with Hipkins.
“Chris will make an excellent Prime Minister and we look forward to continuing our work together, for the rest of this term and the next,” said Green Party co-leader James Shaw. – Rappler.com