Education Minister, Chris Hipkins is poised to become New Zealand’s next Prime Minister after he was the only candidate to enter the contest to replace Jacinda Ardern on Saturday, January 21, 2023.
Hipkins, aged 44, must still gain an endorsement on Sunday, January 22, 2023 from his Labour Party colleagues, however, that is just a formality now. An official transfer of power will come in the days to follow.
“It’s a big day for a boy from the Hutt. I’m really humbled and really proud to be taking this on. It is the biggest responsibility and the biggest privilege of my life.”Chris Hipkins
Jacinda Ardern stunned the nation of 5 million people on Thursday when she announced that she was resigning after five-and-a-half years as Prime Minister.
The lack of other candidates showed that party lawmakers had rallied behind Hipkins to avoid a protracted contest and any sign of disunity following Ardern’s departure
Hipkins will have only a little more than eight months in the role as Prime Minister before contesting a general election. Opinion polls have revealed that the Labour party is trailing its main opponent, the conservative National Party.
Hipkins rose to public prominence during the coronavirus pandemic, when he took on a kind of crisis management role. But he and other liberals have long been in the shadow of Ardern, who became a global icon and exemplified a new style of leadership.
Just 37 when she became leader, Ardern was praised around the world for her handling of the nation’s worst-ever mass shooting and the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, she also faced mounting political pressures. Online, she was subjected to physical threats and misogynistic rants.
“Our society could now usefully reflect on whether it wants to continue to tolerate the excessive polarization which is making politics an increasingly unattractive calling.”Former Prime Minister, Helen Clark
Hipkins Considered More Centrist Than Ardern
A lawmaker for fifteen years, Hipkins is considered more centrist than Ardern and his colleagues hope that he will appeal to a broad range of voters.
Besides holding the Education portfolio, Hipkins is also Minister for Police and the Public service, and leader of the House. He is known as a political troubleshooter who has taken on a variety of roles to try to iron out problems created by other lawmakers.
Hipkins drew a small crowd of clapping onlookers when he talked to reporters outside Parliament. He divulged that he would come back energized after a summer break, considered himself a hard worker and a straight shooter, and that he does not intend to lose his trademark sense of humor in his new role.
Chris Hipkins remarked that he would not be revealing changes to policy or ministerial roles before Sunday’s vote, other than to say Grant Robertson would remain Finance Minister. Hipkins opined that he believed he could win the election and paid tribute to Ardern.
“Jacinda Ardern has been an incredible Prime Minister for New Zealand. She was the leader that we needed at the time that we needed it.”Chris Hipkins
Among his biggest challenges during 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%. New Zealand’s Reserve Bank has raised the benchmark interest rate to 4.25% as it tries to get inflation under control, and some economists are already predicting that the country will go into recession this year.