Chris Hipkins confirmed as New Zealand leader, elects deputy leader

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Chris Hipkins was confirmed Sunday as New Zealand’s next prime minister, picking Carmel Sepuloni as his deputy, marking the first time a person of Pacific Island heritage has risen to that rank.

Hipkins won the unanimous support of his Labor Party lawmakers after he was the only candidate to enter the race to replace Jacinda Ardern, who shocked the nation on Thursday when she announced her resignation after more than five years as manager.

Hipkins will be officially sworn into his new role on Wednesday. He will have less than nine months to contest a tough general election, with opinion polls indicating his party is trailing its conservative opposition.

The lack of other leadership candidates indicated that the party’s lawmakers had rallied behind Hipkins to avoid a protracted contest and any sign of discord following Ardern’s departure.

In setting out his priorities, Mr Hipkins said he knew many families were struggling because of the “inflationary pandemic” and the economy would be central to the government’s thinking.

Asked if he would take on the same transformative approach to government that Ardern had promised after first winning the top job, Hipkins indicated he wanted to get back to basics.

“We will deliver a very strong government that is focused on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to New Zealanders and are relevant to the times we live in now,” Mr Hipkins said. “2017 was five and a half years ago and quite a lot has happened since then.”

Like Hipkins, Sepuloni first became a legislator 15 years ago and most recently took on the social development and employment portfolios as one of the government’s top ministers.

She said it was “very hard to fathom that a working-class girl” from a small town in New Zealand could end up as Deputy Prime Minister.

“I want to acknowledge the significance of this for our Pacific community,” Sepuloni said. “I am proudly Samoan, Tongan and New Zealand European, representing generations of New Zealanders of mixed heritage.”

Sepuloni said she had already received many humiliating messages about another glass ceiling being broken.

Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon told reporters he had congratulated Hipkins via text message. But Luxon said Hipkins and Sepuloni had been part of a government that had “failed spectacularly” to get things done, and that after the leadership change there would be more of the same.

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