WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Chris Hipkins, who played a significant role in New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to replace Jacinda Ardern as prime minister after the sole candidate on Saturday became leader of the ruling Labor Party. .
Hipkins, 44, is expected to be installed as the new leader at a meeting of 64 Labor MPs, or caucus, on Sunday.
“I think we’re an incredibly strong team,” Hipkins said at a news conference after the party announced he was the sole candidate.
We have gone through this process with unity and will continue to do so. I feel really fortunate to work with such an amazing group of people who have a genuine commitment to serving the people of New Zealand. »
Hepkins would not be drawn into his political plans. He said Ardern’s proposed reshuffle would go ahead, but Finance Minister Grant Robertson was likely to continue in the role.
He said he had spoken to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who wrote on Twitter that the two had a “warm discussion”.
In a surprise announcement on Thursday, Ardern said she “no longer has a tank” to lead the country and will step down.
First elected to Labor Parliament in 2008, Hipkins has become a household name, spearheading the government’s response to the pandemic. He was appointed Minister of Health in July 2020, before becoming Minister of Response to the Coronavirus at the end of the year.
He is now Minister of Police, Education and Civil Service, as well as Speaker of Parliament.
A Horizon Research poll on Friday showed Hepkins was the most popular candidate among voters, with support from 26% of those polled.
New Zealander Eva Murphy said in Auckland he had a big challenge ahead of him.
“She won’t be filling Jacinda’s place and it will be interesting to see what Labor comes up with in terms of campaigning over the next year and we can’t wait to see what happens,” she said.
Confirmation by Labor lawmakers on Sunday afternoon is expected to be a formality. Ardern would then tender his resignation to the Governor-General of New Zealand before Hopkins was appointed.
If confirmed, Hipkins would serve as prime minister until the party’s term expires.
A general election will be held on Oct. 14, and some opinion polls show Labor trailing the opposition New Zealand National Party.
A Korea Federation of Taxpayers poll released Friday, based on data from before Ardern’s resignation announcement, showed Labor’s approval rating dropped to 31.7%, down from 37.2% of the Nationals.
The New Zealand Green Party, a traditional partner of the Labor Party, said in a statement that it looked forward to working with Hepkins.
Greens leader James Shaw said: “Chris will make a great prime minister and we look forward to continuing our work together, for the remainder of this term and beyond.”
Lucy Kramer reports. Additional reporting by Jill Gralow in Auckland. Editing by Deba Babington, Rosalba O’Brien and William Mallard
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