New Delhi: New Zealand’s Education Minister Chris Hipkins, who also led the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will become the country’s next prime minister replacing Jacinda Ardern. Hipkins emerged as the only candidate nominated to lead the Labour Party, the party stated on Saturday. Hipkins is expected to be confirmed as the new leader at a meeting of the Labour Party’s Caucus including 64 lawmakers on Sunday.
“I think we’re an incredibly strong team,” Hipkins told a press conference after he was announced as the sole candidate, news agency Reuters reported.
“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,” he added.
Jacinda Ardern delivered a surprise announcement on Thursday when she said she had “no more in the tank” to lead the country and would step down, not seek re-election.
44-year-old Chris Hipkins, first elected to parliament for the Labour Party in 2008, became a household name for taking a crisis management role in the government’s response to the pandemic after being appointed minister for COVID-19 in November 2020.
He is currently the minister for police, education and public service, as well as the leader of the House.
Reuters cited a Horizon Research snap poll obtained by local media organisation Stuff on Friday as depicting that Hipkins was the most popular potential candidate among voters, with the support of 26% of those surveyed.
Hipkins’ confirmation at the Labour Party meeting on Sunday afternoon is expected to be just a formality. Ardern will then tender her resignation to the Governor General before Hipkins is appointed.
Hipkins will be prime minister until the party’s term ends and face a general election to be held on October 14, with some opinion polls showing Labour Party trailing its main opponent, the conservative National Party.