Taking on the role of the island nation’s ‘pandemic mister’ during Covid-19, Christopher Hipkins was named New Zealand’s 41st Prime Minister on Saturday 21 January. A face known to his fellow citizens for addressing them many times during health press conferences, he succeeded the highly regarded Jacinda Ardern after she resigned due to fatigue. At 44, the left-wing MP, the only candidate to replace Ardern, will have to lead the boat of a party whose popularity has been largely tarnished since 2020 as the next national election looms in October.
The current leader, a world leader in progressive politics, stunned New Zealand when it announced its sudden removal from power on January 19, less than three years after winning a second term in a landslide election victory. During her tenure, she has faced the Covid-19 pandemic, a deadly volcanic eruption and the worst attack in the country’s history, the 2019 killing of 51 Muslim worshipers in two mosques in Christchurch by a white supremacist.
Although he is not as popular as Jacinda Ardern, commentators consider Chris Hipkins to be an experienced politician who has served in Parliament for over 14 years. From humble origins and president of the University of Victoria Student Association, he first set foot there in 1997 as a protester against the educational policies of the day before being arrested by the police. Today, he is hailed for his almost two-year mandate as head of the fight against Covid-19 in a country that closed its borders to prevent the pandemic and only reopened them in August 2022.
A successor that combines craftsmanship and humor
Accustomed to working under pressure and being very insecure, the politician nonetheless warned that he wanted to keep his loved ones “out of the spotlight” due to the “monstrous pressure” exerted on his predecessor and his family in recent years.
Despite his role in this particularly strict policy, “Chippy”, as his Assembly colleagues call him, is also known to be a man of humor and prone to self-mockery. In recent years, he has repeatedly hit the front pages of the tabloids for ease of production. When he was Minister of Police, he attracted international attention for his all-roll birthday cake (known to be his favorite dish). A creation that he said was the result of “police intelligence gathering reaching new heights”.
Apart from this humor, Hipkins is also considered to be an ardent political opponent and an avid debater. Political columnist Josie Pagani called him “sensitive, sympathetic, tough and competent.” For his rivals, however, “the reality is that he was an essential part of a government that could do nothing,” Christopher Luxon, leader of the country’s main opposition party, reasoned on Sunday, January 22, after congratulating Hipkins on his nomination.
Leading Labor Party to the election
Barely at the head of the country, the new head of government will be responsible for leading his party to the general elections in October. Inflation and staff shortages have largely eroded the ruling party’s popularity since 2020. According to polls, the left party is now lagging behind the centre-right opposition. “I like to think that I’m a man of determination and the ability to get things done,” Chris Hipkins said recently, believing himself capable of winning the Oct. 14 vote.
The new prime minister promptly announced that the country would have a First Vice Prime Minister of Pacific Island origin, with the appointment of Carmel Sepuloni. About 8% of New Zealand’s 5.1 million people identify as Pasikifa. He himself will be enthroned on Wednesday, January 25, by the Governor General, the representative in New Zealand of King Charles III.