(Bloomberg) — New Zealand’s ruling Labour Party said Chris Hipkins is the sole nominee to succeed outgoing leader Jacinda Ardern, all but confirming he will become the nation’s next prime minister.The Labour caucus must still endorse Hipkins at a meeting tomorrow, the party said in a statement Saturday in Wellington. He is not expected to speak to media until that vote has taken place.
Labour is moving swiftly to replace Ardern after her shock resignation two days ago, seeking to unite the party behind a new leader ahead of a tough election in October. Hipkins must resurrect support for Labour, which trails the opposition in opinion polls, even as the economy is forecast to enter a recession.
Hipkins, 44, is a mild-mannered but talented politician who has a reputation as a safe pair of hands. Ardern often turned to him to sort out difficult situations, most recently making him Police Minister at a time when concerns about law and order were denting the government’s popularity.
He was the minister responsible for the government’s response to Covid-19 through the most intense period of the pandemic, becoming a household name as he fronted press conferences.
Nicknamed “Chippy” — an amalgam of his first and last names — Hipkins became known as a likable and self-deprecating character who has a sense of humor.
He lightened the nation’s mood during one of the Covid lockdowns when he jumbled his words and urged New Zealanders to “spread their legs” when getting outdoor exercise.
Hipkins may struggle to follow in the footsteps of the charismatic Ardern, a political superstar who swept Labour to power in 2017 on a wave of adulation dubbed “Jacinda-Mania.”
At the same time, he has the opportunity to refresh Labour and jettison some of Ardern’s unpopular policies, such as the merger of state broadcasters Radio New Zealand and TVNZ.
The general election will be held on Oct. 14.
Hipkins will go up against National Party leader Christopher Luxon, a former chief executive at national carrier Air New Zealand and a relative political novice. National, the main opposition party, was five points ahead of Labour in an opinion poll published last month.
Hipkins entered parliament in 2008 as the representative for Remutaka, a constituency just north of capital city Wellington.
In addition to police, he also currently holds the education and public service portfolios as well as being Leader of the House.
Assuming Hipkins is endorsed as Labour leader by caucus tomorrow, Ardern will formally resign. Hipkins will then be sworn in as prime minister by the Governor-General.
(Updates with parliamentary background from fifth paragraph)