WELLINGTON, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Chris Hipkins, who played a key role in New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to replace Jacinda Ardern as prime minister after emerging as the sole candidate to lead the ruling Labor Party on Saturday. .
Hipkins, 44, is expected to be confirmed as the new leader at a meeting of Labour’s 64 MPs, or Caucus, on Sunday.
“I think we’re an incredibly strong team,” Hipkins said at a press conference after the party announced him as a unified candidate.
“We have been through this process together and will continue to do so. I feel very fortunate to be working with such an amazing group of people who have a real commitment to serving the people of New Zealand.”
Known as “Chippy,” Hipkins has built a reputation for competence in the fight against COVID-19 and problem solver While other cabinet ministers are fighting for Ardern.
He would not be involved in his political plans. Ardern’s proposed cabinet reshuffle will go ahead, but she has said she plans to keep Grant Robertson as finance minister.
He said he had spoken to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and tweeted that the two had a “heated discussion”.
In surprise announcement on Thursday, Ardern said she was “no longer in the tank” to lead the country and would step down.
Hipkins, who was first elected to parliament as a Labor Party in 2008, has been a leading name in the government’s response to the pandemic. He was appointed health minister in July 2020 before becoming the minister of the COVID response later in the year.
He is currently the Minister of Police, Education and Civil Service, as well as the Leader of the House.
A Horizon Research snap poll obtained by local media organization Stuff on Friday showed Hipkins was the most popular potential candidate among voters, with support from 26% of those polled.
He has a big challenge ahead of him, New Zealander Eva Murphy said in Auckland.
“I will never fill Jacinda’s shoes and it will be interesting to see what Labor comes up with in terms of campaigning next year and we look forward to seeing what happens,” he said.
Hipkins’ confirmation by Labor lawmakers is expected to become official on Sunday afternoon. Ardern will then tender her resignation to New Zealand’s governor-general before Hipkins is appointed.
If confirmed, Hipkins will be prime minister until the end of the party’s term.
General elections will be held in October. On the 14th, some opinion polls showed Labor overtaking the opposition New Zealand National Party.
A Taxpayers’ Union-Curia poll released on Friday, based on data from before Ardern’s resignation, showed Labor’s popularity had fallen to 31.7%, compared to 37.2% for Citizens.
Labour’s traditional coalition partner, the New Zealand Green Party, said in a statement that they look forward to working with Hipkins.
“Chris will be a great Prime Minister and we look forward to continuing to work together for the rest of this term and beyond,” Green Party co-leader James Shaw said.
Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Additional reporting by Jill Gralow in Oakland; Edited by Deepa Babington, Rosalba O’Brien and William Mallard
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