Chris Hipkins will become New Zealand’s next prime minister after he was formally voted in as successor to Jacinda Ardern following Thursday’s shock resignation.
New Zealand will also be sworn in as its first Pacific Islander deputy prime minister, with Social Development Minister Kamel Seproni of Tongan descent taking over the post.
Ardern’s final event as prime minister will be on Tuesday, while Hipkins will be officially sworn in on Wednesday morning.
“I take this job at a challenging time for New Zealanders,” Hipkins said in his first speech after the vote, promising a sharp focus on economic issues. “Covid-19 and the global pandemic have created a health crisis and now an economic crisis – that’s what our government is focused on.
“Our focus right now is going to be on the bread and butter that people care about. Some people, a lot of people are hurting right now and I want them to know we’re on their side.”
Hipkins pledged to scrap Labour’s legislative agenda and refocus on the economy, saying he would immediately begin “reining in some programs and projects that are not important at the moment”.
Ardern and her party’s popularity has declined steadily over the past year as New Zealand has struggled with high inflation and rising living costs. Outlining his vision, Hipkins promised to “bring a strong sense of clarity, purpose and priority to help New Zealanders through these difficult economic times”.
Hipkins has been confirmed as prime minister since Saturday morning, when he was the only candidate nominated by caucus members to replace Ardern. Senior MPs had pushed for a consensus nominee, hoping for a swift, decisive transition without infighting. Sunday’s vote finalized Hipkins’ selection process, and the caucus room rang out with cheers and singing as members met throughout the morning.
Hipkins announced that Seproni, who was serving as deputy prime minister, would become New Zealand’s first Pacific Islander deputy prime minister. The Minister for Social Development, Arts, Culture and Heritage is considered a reliable executor in government and is close to Hipkins, standing alongside him in parliament and working closely on education and youth crime programmes.
She is also based in Auckland, bringing nearly a third of New Zealand’s total population home to representation in the city, an attribute considered vital to the leadership teams of New Zealand’s major political parties.
“It’s hard to imagine a working-class girl from Waitara turned western, and that person could become New Zealand’s deputy prime minister,” Sepuloni said.
“I want to acknowledge how important this is to our Pacific community – I’m proud to be European in Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand and represent generations of New Zealanders of mixed ancestry.”
Sepuloni entered Parliament in 2008, becoming New Zealand’s first Tongan MP.
more exciting coming soon