Chris Hipkins to be New Zealand’s next prime minister: NPR
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Education Minister Chris Hipkins will be New Zealand’s next prime minister on Saturday after becoming the only candidate in the race to replace Jacinda Ardern.
Hipkins, 44, still needs to win the endorsement of his Labor colleagues on Sunday, but that is now just a formality. In the coming days, the power will officially change.
“It’s a great day for a Hutt boy,” Hipkins said, referring to the Hutt Valley near Wellington where he grew up. “I am very humbled and truly honored to receive this. This is the greatest responsibility and the greatest honor of my life.”
Ardern stunned the nation of 5 million on Thursday when she announced she was stepping down after five-and-a-half years in the leading role.
The absence of other candidates suggested party lawmakers rallied behind Hipkins to avoid a tight race and any signs of disunity after Ardern’s departure.
Hipkins has a little more than eight months before running for the general election. The poll showed Labor trailing its main rival, the Conservative National Party.
Hipkins rose to prominence when he took on some kind of crisis management role during the coronavirus pandemic. But he and other liberals have long been overshadowed by Ardern, who has become a global icon of the left and exemplified a new style of leadership.
Ardern, who was just 37 when she became leader, was praised around the world for her handling of the country’s worst mass shooting and the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But he faces mounting political pressure at home and a level of infighting some of New Zealand’s previous leaders have not encountered. Online, she was subjected to physical threats and misogynistic slurs.
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark wrote: “Our society can now usefully ask itself whether it wants to tolerate the extreme polarization that is making politics an increasingly unattractive enterprise.”
Fighting back tears, Ardern told reporters on Thursday that she would be stepping down from her post no later than February 7.
“I know what this job requires and I know I no longer have enough resources to do it justice. It’s that simple,” he said.
As well as holding the education portfolio, Hipkins is the Minister for Policing and the Civil Service and Leader of the House. He is known as a political troubleshooter who has played various roles trying to solve problems created by other legislators.
But he’s also made his share of missteps, such as when he told people to go out and “spread their legs” during the virus lockdown, a comment that caused a stir online.
Hipkins drew cheers from the crowd as he spoke to reporters outside Parliament. He said he came back from the summer break full of energy, considers himself a hard worker and a straight shooter, and doesn’t want to lose his sense of humor in his new role.
He said he would not announce any changes to political or ministerial roles ahead of Sunday’s vote, except that Grant Robertson would remain as finance minister. Hipkins paid tribute to Ardern, saying he believed she would win the election.
“Jacinda Ardern has been a fantastic prime minister for New Zealand,” Hipkins said. “He was the leader we needed when we needed him.”
Hipkins, who has been a lawmaker for 15 years, is considered more centrist than Ardern and her colleagues hope she will appeal to a wider range of voters.
One of his biggest challenges in an election year will be convincing voters that his party is managing the economy well.
New Zealand’s unemployment rate is relatively low at 3.3%, but inflation is high at 7.2%. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has raised its benchmark interest rate to 4.25% in an effort to beat inflation, and some economists predict the country will slip into recession this year.
All news on the site does not represent the views of the site, but we automatically submit this news and translate it through software technology on the site rather than a human editor.