Chris Hipkins — Ex-COVID Minister Who Has Been Selected as Prime Minister of New Zealand

Murad Jandali | a year ago

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Chris Hipkins was recently chosen to replace Jacinda Ardern as leader of New Zealand’s Labour Party, Radio New Zealand reported.

He will also serve as Prime Minister of New Zealand, which has a population of 5 million, for more than 8 months, as the general elections will be held on October 14.

Hipkins, 44, was first elected to Parliament for the Labour Party in 2008 and has become a seasoned politician and a household name during the New Zealand government’s efforts to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, Ardern announced that she would step down from her position in February, CNN reported.

Ardern, 42, became the youngest female head of government in the world after she was elected prime minister in 2017, at the age of 37.

Ardern explained that she led New Zealand through six difficult years during which it witnessed the Corona pandemic and the period of recession that followed, and the Christchurch mosque shooting incident in 2019, in addition to the eruption of the White Island volcano.

 

Chris Hipkins

New Zealand’s ruling Labour Party announced on January 22, 2023, the selection of Chris Hipkins as party leader and the country’s 41st prime minister, replacing Jacinda Ardern.

The approval of his election came in a vote during the party meeting, as the vote lasted less than one hour.

Hipkins was the only candidate for the post, and confirmation by Labour MPs was largely a formality.

Hipkins, who was Minister for Education, Police and Public Health, is scheduled to be sworn in on January 25, 2023.

In a press conference after his election, Hipkins said that a cabinet reshuffle will be announced next week.

He added, “I consider that I have the determination and the ability to push things forward,” stressing that he is able to win the upcoming general elections.

Outlining his priorities, Hipkins said that besides focusing on domestic issues and law and order, his government would prioritize the economy, especially tackling the high inflation and rising housing prices that New Zealand families suffer from.

Hipkins also chose Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni as his deputy, the first time a person of Pacific Island (Tongan and Samoan) ancestry has risen to the position.

 

Early Life

Hipkins was born in the Hutt Valley area of Wellington on September 5, 1978, and attended Waterloo Primary School and Hutt Middle School.

In high school, he enjoyed a leadership role representing all students of his prestigious Hutt Valley School in 1996.

Hipkins was also President of Students during his university study, after which he received a Bachelor of Literature degree from Victoria University of Wellington, majoring in Politics and Crime.

Hipkins entered parliament in 2008, and after the 2011 general election, he was appointed Labour spokesperson for home affairs and chief whip, with the task of helping to regulate the party’s participation in parliamentary business.

In April 2013, Hipkins voted in favor of the Marriage Amendment Bill, which legalized same-sex marriage in New Zealand.

In late 2015, Hipkins received a death threat over his concerns about a billboard advertising discounted guns.

In 2017, he was appointed Minister of Education after being elected as a cabinet minister by the ruling Labour Party bloc.

In July 2020, he was chosen for the position of Minister of Health, and in November of the same year, he became Minister of Education, Public Health and COVID Control.

Hipkins’ decisions won plaudits across the political spectrum for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, as New Zealand saw some of the strictest measures in the world and also resulted in one of the lowest death rates.

The policy was welcomed around the world, with New Zealand remaining virus-free until the first half of 2021, but people are tired of the zero-tolerance strategy, which included a nationwide lockdown over a single infection.

In June 2022, Hipkins was also appointed New Zealand Minister of Police.

Hipkins is known in Parliament for his sense of humor, including his ability to laugh at himself, such as when he told people during quarantine that they could “get outside [their houses] and spread their legs,” a comment that sparked a lot of fun on the internet.

 

Political Split

After Hipkins is formally sworn into office, he will have less than nine months before a difficult general election, with opinion polls showing his party trailing the conservative opposition.

Labour had fallen in opinion polls, with inflation soaring to its highest level in almost 30 years and soaring crime rates.

A Taxpayers’ Union-Curia poll released on January 20, 2023, based on data from before Ardern’s resignation announcement, showed Labour’s popularity falling to 31.7%, behind the Nationals at 37.2%.

New Zealand Green Party, Labour’s traditional coalition partner, said in a statement they were looking forward to working with Hipkins.

“Chris will make an excellent Prime Minister and we look forward to continuing our work together, for the rest of this term and the next,” said Green Party co-leader James Shaw.

On the other hand, the lack of other candidates for the position of prime minister indicated that Labour MPs rallied behind Hipkins to avoid a long rivalry and any sign of division after Ardern’s departure.

Especially since the country has become increasingly politically divided over several issues, most notably: a government reform of water infrastructure and an agricultural emissions program.

On his part, opposition leader Christopher Luxon told reporters that he congratulated Hipkins by text message but stressed that Hipkins and Sepuloni were part of a government that had failed massively to get things done and that after a change of leadership, it would be very much the same.