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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Chris Hipkins to be New Zealand’s next Prime Minister and Carmel Sepuloni to be deputy PM

Chris Hipkins was confirmed as New Zealand’s next prime minister on Sunday, choosing Carmel Sepuloni as his deputy, the first time a person of Pacific Island heritage has advanced to the position.

The 44-year-old education and police minister won the unanimous support of lawmakers from his Labor Party after being the only candidate to enter the race to replace Jacinda Ardern, who shocked the nation on Thursday when she announced she would step down after more than five. years as a leader.

Hipkins will officially step down from his new role on Wednesday. He will have less than nine months to fight a hard-fought general election, with opinion polls suggesting his party is trailing the Conservative opposition.

The lack of other leadership candidates suggested party lawmakers were rallying behind Hipkins to avoid a protracted contest and any sign of disunity following Ardern’s departure.

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In setting his priorities, Hipkins said he knew many families were struggling because of “pandemic inflation” and that the economy would be central to his government’s thinking.

Asked if he would take the same transformational approach to government that Ardern promised after first winning the top job, Hipkins indicated he wanted to get back to basics.

“We’re going to deliver a very solid government that will focus on the bread and butter issues that are important to New Zealanders and that are relevant to the times we’re in now,” Hipkins said. “2017 was five and a half years ago and quite a lot has happened since then.

Hipkins criticized the treatment Ardern endured during her tenure and vowed to protect his own family from such attention.

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Politicians and other public figures also lined up to criticize the “vintriol” Ardern faced as prime minister, particularly on social media, although she did not mention it herself when she resigned.

“The way Jacinda was treated, particularly by certain segments of our society — and that’s a small minority — was absolutely disgusting,” Hipkins said.

“It doesn’t represent who we are as a country,” he added.

The prime minister-to-be, best known for leading a nationwide crackdown on COVID-19 for nearly two years, said he understood that standing up as a leader meant he was “public property”.

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“But not my family,” he told reporters.

Hipkins said he wanted his six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter to grow up in a “typical Kiwi childhood”, adding that his amicable separation from his wife was his own business.

“I’ve seen enormous scrutiny and pressure on Jacinda and her family, so my response will be to keep my family completely out of the spotlight,” he said.

Like Hipkins, Sepuloni first became a lawmaker 15 years ago and most recently held the social development and employment portfolio as one of the government’s most senior ministers.

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She said it was “very hard to fathom that a working-class girl” from a small New Zealand town could end up as deputy prime minister.

“I want to recognize the significance of this to our Pacific community,” Sepuloni said. “I am a proud Samoan, Tongan and New Zealand European and I represent generations of New Zealanders of mixed heritage.”

Sepuloni said she’s already been getting a lot of humbling messages about breaking another glass ceiling.

About eight percent of New Zealand’s 5.1 million people identify as Pasifika – New Zealanders of Pacific Island descent.

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Grant Robertson, Ardern’s deputy prime minister, is expected to remain as finance minister.

Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon told reporters he had congratulated Hipkins by text. But Luxon said Hipkins and Sepuloni were part of a government that “failed spectacularly” to get things done and that it would be more of the same after the leadership change.

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