Chris Hipkins was confirmed as New Zealand’s next prime minister on Sunday and chose Carmel Sepuloni as his deputy, marking the first time that someone with Pacific Island heritage has reached that rank.
r Hipkins received the unanimous support of politicians from his Labor Party when he was the only candidate to enter the contest to replace Jacinda Ardern, who shocked the nation on Thursday when she stepped down after more than five years as leader. later announced his resignation.
Mr Hipkins will be officially sworn into his new role on Wednesday. He will have less than nine months before contesting a tough general election, with opinion polls indicating his party is trailing its conservative opposition.
The lack of other candidates for leader indicated that the party had rallied behind Mr. Hipkins to avoid a drawn-out contest and any hint of disunity following Ms. Ardern’s departure.
In setting out his priorities, Mr Hipkins said he was aware that many families were struggling because of the “pandemic of inflation” and that the economy would be at the center of his government’s thinking.
Asked whether he would take the same transformative approach to government that Ms Ardern promised after first winning the top post, Mr Hipkins indicated he wanted to go back to basics.
“We will deliver a very concrete government that is focused on the bread and butter issues for New Zealanders, and that are relevant to the moment in time,” Mr Hipkins said. “2017 was five and a half years ago, and a lot has happened since then.”
Like Mr Hipkins, Ms Sepuloni first became a politician 15 years ago and has most recently held the social development and employment portfolios as one of the government’s top ministers.
He said that “it was too 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 importance of this to our Pacific community,” Ms. Sepuloni said. “I am proudly Samoan, Tongan and New Zealand European, and represent generations of New Zealanders with mixed heritage.”
Ms Sepuloni said she was already getting a lot of polite messages about another glass ceiling being broken.
Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon told reporters he had congratulated Mr Hipkins by text. But Mr Luxon said Mr Hipkins and Ms Sepuloni were part of a government that “failed spectacularly” to work and that after a leadership change, it would be the same as before.