Chris Hipkins, who served as New Zealand’s education and police minister, is set to become the country’s new prime minister next month after becoming the only member of the ruling Labor Party to be nominated for the party leadership.
Labor Group members will meet on Sunday in the New Zealand city of Napier, where they are currently at their summer residence, to support the nomination and confirm Mr Hipkins as their party’s new leader. At least 10 percent of the parliamentary group must vote for Mr. Hipkins to confirm him.
His nomination comes after the surprise resignation on Thursday of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who had become a global liberal icon during her tenure.
“I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job you could ever have, but also one of the most challenging,” Ms Ardern said at a news conference announcing her decision. “You can’t and shouldn’t do it if you don’t have a full tank.”
Ms Ardern has said she will leave her post “no later than” February 7, giving the party around two weeks to complete the transition.
Mr Hipkins, 44, became a household name in New Zealand during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic during daily television briefings. As first health minister and then minister for the Covid-19 response, he became the face – and often the driving force behind the policies behind – the country’s handling of the virus, which resulted in few deaths.
But as the next leader of the Labor Party, he will face a number of major challenges when the country goes to the elections on October 14.
Voters, facing the same financial strains as in many other parts of the world, are looking for solutions to biting inflation, an ongoing housing crisis and other deep-rooted social problems such as child poverty and crime. Polls suggest many voters believe the party has failed to deliver the policy answers, with 38 per cent favoring the centre-right National Party to Labour, up 33 per cent last month.
Even as her party plummeted in the polls, Ms Ardern had retained a certain star power that Mr Hipkins might struggle to match. But Mr. Hipkins, who has been a politician since 2008 and is a familiar face to many, will bring to the campaign a reputation as a champion debater and an experienced policymaker.
In a duel between two Chrises, Mr. Hipkins will face off against Christopher Luxon, leader of the National Party and former CEO of New Zealand’s national airline, Air New Zealand.
Mr Hipkins may struggle to move beyond his association with pandemic politics, potentially a double-edged sword for voters looking to put the worst of the last three years behind them.
In the early years of the pandemic, New Zealand’s extended lockdowns and vaccination mandates were widely popular. But as the rest of the world opened up, resentments began to grow, prompting a backlash from some.