New Zealand’s former COVID-19 minister, Chris Hipkins, has been confirmed as the country’s next prime minister.
Hipkins received the unanimous support of lawmakers from the ruling Labor Party on Sunday after he single candidate to replace the charismatic Jacinda Ardern, who shocked the country last week when she announced her resignation after more than five years as prime minister.
Hipkins, 44, will be officially sworn in on Wednesday.
He will have less than nine months before a tough general election, with opinion polls showing his party leading the conservative opposition.
“This is the greatest privilege and greatest responsibility of my life,” Hipkins said at a press conference announcing his appointment.
“I am full of energy and excited about the challenge ahead.”
Hipkins immediately admitted Ardern’s leadershipwho he calls one of the New Zealand’s Greatest Prime Minister and an inspiration to women and girls everywhere. He said: “She spoke up for those who are often overlooked in challenging times and deliberately do politics in a different way.
But some of the hate Ms Ardern has faced during her tenure is a reminder that “we have a way to ensure women in leadership receive the same respect as their male counterparts”. he added.
Known as “Chippy,” Hipkins has built a reputation for his ability to tackle COVID and as Ardern’s trouble-shooter when other cabinet ministers get stuck.
First elected to parliament in 2008, he has become a household name given the government’s response to the pandemic. He was appointed health minister in July 2020 before becoming COVID response minister at the end of the year.
Hipkins appointed Carmel Sepuloni as deputy prime minister, the first deputy prime minister of Pacific New Zealand.
Sepuloni, 46, is of European descent from Samoa, Tongan and New Zealand and lives in Auckland. She holds several portfolios, including social development and employment as well as arts, culture and heritage.
She said it was “difficult to understand that a working-class girl” from a small town in New Zealand could become deputy prime minister.
“I want to acknowledge how important this is to our Pacific community,” said Sepuloni. “I am proud to be of European Samoan, Tongan and New Zealand descent, and represent generations of New Zealanders with mixed heritage.”
Sepuloni said she received a lot of humbling messages about another glass ceiling being smashed.
Hipkins said the rest of the group will be announced later.
The new leader said he has seen the media focus on Ardern’s personal life and wants to keep his two young children and family out of the limelight.
He said a year ago he and his wife decided to live separately.
“She’s still my best friend but we made that decision in the best interest of our family,” he said.
Local polls show Hipkins as the most popular potential candidate among voters. While Ardern was popular early on during her five-and-a-half-year tenure, her rating dropped due to a backlash to strict COVID restrictions, cost of living and mortgage rates. as well as concerns about crime.
Hipkins has a tough road ahead, with Labor leading the opposition in opinion polls and the country expected to slide into recession next quarter ahead of the general election on 14th. October.
Hipkins acknowledged that he was taking on the job at a challenging time and said his government would focus on “bread and butter issues”.
“In the next week, the cabinet will make a decision on limiting certain programs and projects that are not necessary at the moment. We will focus on low and middle income New Zealanders and small businesses [finding] it’s hard to get over,” he said.
Opposition leader Christopher Luxon told reporters he congratulated Hipkins by text message.
But Luxon said Hipkins and Sepuloni were once part of the government that “failed spectacularly” to get the job done and that after the leadership change, it will be more like that.