New Zealand: Chris Hipkins to replace Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday | New Zealand politics

Chris Hipkins will be New Zealand’s next prime minister following a formal vote endorsing him as Jacinda Ardern’s successor following her surprise resignation on Thursday.

New Zealand will also swear in its first deputy prime minister Pasifika, with social development minister Carmel Sepuloni, of Tongan descent, taking over.

Ardern’s last appointments as prime minister will be on Tuesday, and Hipkins will be officially sworn in on Wednesday morning.

“I took on this job at a difficult time for New Zealanders,” Hipkins said in his first speech after the vote, pledging laser focus on economic issues. “Covid-19 and the global pandemic created a health crisis, and now it has created an economic one, and that is where the focus of my administration will be.

“Our focus will be right now, on the basic issues that concern people. Some people, many people are suffering right now, and I want them to know that we are on their side.”

Hipkins vowed to scale back Labor’s legislative agenda to refocus on the economy, saying he would immediately start “controlling some programs and projects that are not essential at the moment.”

The popularity of Ardern and his party has steadily declined over the past year as New Zealand has grappled with high inflation rates and a rising cost of living. Outlining his vision, Hipkins promised to bring “strong clarity, a sense of purpose and priority to helping New Zealanders through these tough economic times.”

The incoming prime minister also used his speech to pay tribute to Ardern, saying she was “one of New Zealand’s great prime ministers” and one of his closest friends. He pointed to misogynistic abuse, threats and vitriol directed at Ardernand called on men to take a bigger role to counter it.

“Jacinda’s leadership has been an inspiration to women and girls around the world. But it has also been a reminder that we have a ways to go when it comes to ensuring that women in leadership are given the same respect as their male counterparts,” she said.

“The way that Jacinda has been treated, particularly by some segments of our society, and they are a small minority, has been absolutely abhorrent.

“We as men have a responsibility to talk about it,” he said. “We often let women say ‘this isn’t right and I don’t feel good about it,’ and many women don’t feel comfortable talking that way. So I think we as men have a responsibility to call it out when we see it.”

Hipkins had been set to take over as prime minister since Saturday morning, when he was the only candidate nominated by caucus members to take Ardern’s place. Senior parliamentarians had pushed for a consensus candidate, hoping for a swift and decisive transition without infighting. Sunday’s vote finalized the selection process for Hipkins, and loud cheers and chants were heard from the caucus room as members gathered throughout the morning.

Sepuloni, whom Hipkins has announced as his deputy, will be Pasifika’s first deputy prime minister of New Zealand. The minister for Social Development, Arts, Culture and Heritage is considered a trusted player in government and has had a close relationship with Hipkins, working alongside him as a whip in parliament and collaborating closely on education and youth crime programmes.

It is also based in Auckland, providing representation for a city that is home to nearly a third of New Zealand’s total population, an attribute seen as crucial to New Zealand’s major party leadership teams.

“It’s very hard to imagine that a working-class girl from Waitara turned Western could become New Zealand’s deputy prime minister,” Sepuloni said.

“I want to recognize the importance of this to our Pacific community – I am a proudly Samoan, Tongan and European New Zealander and I represent generations of New Zealanders with mixed heritage.”

Sepuloni entered parliament in 2008, becoming New Zealand’s first MP of Tongan descent.

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