New Zealand’s former Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins vowed on Saturday to “get things done” and win a looming general election in October after being chosen as the only candidate to replace Jacinda Ardern as prime minister . The 44-year-old red-haired politician emerged as the sole candidate to lead the ruling Labor party in a meeting of MPs, and now faces what is seen as the mere formality of a confirmation by his colleagues on Sunday.
As leader of the party, he will take over as the country’s 41st prime minister following Ardern’s shock resignation on Thursday. Ardern said she would step down on February 7, but she could do so sooner because her successor was chosen in just 48 hours.
“I like to think I’m pretty decisive and can get things done,” Hipkins told reporters outside parliament in the capital, Wellington.
As his party trailed in the polls over criticism of rising prices, poverty and crime rates, reporters questioned whether he could win the October 14 election.
“Yes,” he replied.
A global figurehead of progressive politics, Ardern stunned New Zealand by announcing her abrupt departure from office less than three years after securing a second term in a landslide election victory.
The 42-year-old – who guided the country through natural disasters, the Covid pandemic and the worst terror attack ever – said she no longer had “enough in the tank”.
Ardern said her decision to step down was “tinged with sadness”, but after making the announcement she had “slept well for the first time in a long time”.
Political commentators are lining up to condemn the social media abuse increasingly directed against Ardern before her resignation.
Hipkins praised Ardern as “the leader we needed at the time we needed him”, but agreed that she had been on the receiving end of “absolutely unbearable vitriol”.
Ardern’s successor is widely seen as a safe pair of hands with more than 14 years in parliament.
Hipkins told reporters he felt “energized and excited” about the new job.
“It’s a big day for a Hutt boy,” he said, referring to the Hutt Valley region near Wellington.
“My parents came from relatively humble beginnings and worked very hard to give my brother and me a good life,” Hipkins added, pledging to give New Zealanders the chance to improve their lives.
The incoming prime minister said he had already spoken with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
He refused to give any policy or ministerial plans, except that he intended to keep Treasury Secretary Grant Robertson in place.
The right-wing ACT party urged him to “deliver content rather than snowball New Zealand with spin”.
The Green Party said they look forward to working with him to “end poverty, take bold climate action and protect our native wildlife”.
Hipkins’ appointment refuted speculation that Justice Minister Kiri Allan, one of Labour’s top Maori MPs, would have become the country’s first Maori prime minister.
Allan praised Hipkins as decisive and said she believed he would make “an incredibly strong prime minister”.
Hipkins received praise for his nearly two-year term as Covid response minister in a country that closed its borders to keep out the coronavirus and only fully reopened last August.
He admitted last year that people were tired of strict pandemic restrictions and described the border closures as “heavy”.
Hipkins told reporters on Saturday that he enjoys cycling, gardening, odd jobs and being outdoors, but admitted: “Maybe I don’t have the best fashion sense in Parliament.”
Asked if it would be a historic moment to be a red-headed prime minister, he said: “I think it’s about time we had a ginger at the top.”
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