CHRIS Hipkins has been sworn in as New Zealand’s 41st prime minister. The 44-year-old was formally appointed to the role in Wellington, a week after Jacinda Ardern’s unexpected resignation.
Ms Ardern, 42, had said she no longer has “enough in the tank” to lead the country. The country’s governor-general, Cindy Kiro accepted her formal resignation on Wednesday.
Mr Hipkins built a reputation as the minister who led New Zealand’s Covid-19 strategy.
At the ruling Labour Party’s caucus over the weekend, Hipkins received unanimous support to be promoted to lead the country, and now faces the uphill task of retaining power in the upcoming general elections in October.
Hipkins has promised a back-to-basics approach focusing on the economy and what he described as the “pandemic of inflation”.
He will have less than nine months before contesting a tough general election, with opinion polls indicating his Labour Party is trailing its conservative opposition.
New Zealand governor-general Cindy Kiro officiated at the swearing-in ceremony after earlier accepting Ardern’s resignation.
Hipkins served as education and police minister under Ardern. He rose to public prominence during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he took on a kind of crisis management role.
But he and other liberals have long been in the shadow of Ms Ardern, who became a global star of the left and exemplified a new style of leadership.
Nicknamed “Chippy”, the father-of-two had said his commitment and politics is to “make sure that we provide opportunities for all Kiwis who want to work hard, to be able to work hard and get ahead and provide a better life for themselves and for their families”, according to Reuters.
He will hold his first cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Ardern made her final public appearance as prime minister Tuesday with a visit to Ratana, a small town north of Wellington, with politicians and Maori elders where she said what she would miss most was the people because they had been the “joy of the job”.
“I leave feeling gratitude for having this wonderful role for so many years,” she told reporters from the birthplace of one of the country’s most influential indigenous political movements. She said she was ready to be a backbench MP, a sister and a mother.
The country of five million was among the first to close borders. This move won plaudits for keeping New Zealand virus-free early in the pandemic, but frustration set in later among the Kiwis tired of the zero-tolerance strategy, which saw nationwide lockdowns over a single infection.