WELLINGTON, Jan 21 (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 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 lawmakers, or caucus, on Sunday.
“I think we’re an incredibly strong team,” Hipkins said at a news conference after the party announced him as the sole candidate.
“We have come through this process in solidarity and we will continue to do so. I feel very fortunate to work with an amazing group of people who are truly committed to serving the people of New Zealand.”
Nicknamed “Oyster”, Hipkins has built a reputation for her ability to tackle Covid-19 and has been a fixer for Ardern when other cabinet ministers have struggled.
He will not be impressed with his policy plans. Ardern’s proposed cabinet reshuffle will go ahead, but he has said he plans to keep Grant Robertson as finance minister.
He tweeted that he had spoken to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
In a surprise announcement on Thursday, Ardern said she was “no longer in the tank” to lead the country and was stepping down.
First elected to parliament for Labor in 2008, Hipkins has become a household name championing the government’s response to the pandemic. He was appointed Minister of Health in July 2020 and became Minister of Covid Response at the end of the year.
He is now the Minister of Police, Education and Public Service and Speaker of the House.
A Horizon Research snap poll obtained Friday by local media outlet Stuff shows Hipkins is the most popular potential candidate among voters, with support from 26% of those surveyed.
She has a big challenge ahead of her, New Zealander Eva Murphy said in Auckland.
“She will never fill the shoes that Jacinda has and it will be interesting to see what Labor comes up with in terms of the election campaign next year and we look forward to seeing what happens,” he said.
Hipkins’ confirmation is expected to be a formality by Labor lawmakers on Sunday afternoon. Ardern will send her resignation letter to New Zealand’s Governor-General before Hipkins is appointed.
If confirmed, Hipkins will remain prime minister until the end of the party’s term.
A general election is due on October 14, with some polls showing Labor trailing the opposition New Zealand National Party.
A Taxpayers Association-Curia poll published on Friday showed Labour’s approval rating had fallen to 31.7%, compared to Nationals’ 37.2%, based on data from before Ardern’s resignation announcement.
The New Zealand Green Party, Labour’s traditional coalition partner, said in a statement it looked forward to working with Hipkins.
“Chris will be an excellent Prime Minister and we look forward to working together for the rest of this term and the next,” Green Party co-leader James Shaw said.
Reporting by Lucy Cramer; Additional reporting by Jill Gralow in Oakland; Editing by Deepa Babington, Rosalba O’Brien and William Mallard
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