Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s education minister, is bidding to replace Jacinda Ardern as prime minister, following her shock resignation announcement earlier this week.
Hipkins emerged as the only candidate to be nominated for the leadership of the ruling Labor party on Saturday morning.
The Labor Party caucus is due to meet on Sunday to formally endorse and confirm Hipkins as leader, party whip Duncan Webb said.
New Zealand’s next general election is expected to be held on October 14.
Hipkins is a career politician who entered Parliament in 2008, and became a household name leading New Zealand’s pandemic management as Covid-19 response minister in Ardern’s cabinet. Apart from being education minister, he is also minister for police and the public service, and Leader of the House.
Speaking to reporters after nominations closed at 9 am local time in the capital Wellington, he said he aims to reach a consensus about who is “best to lead the Labor party, and therefore, New Zealand forward.”
“I am absolutely humbled and honored,” he said, then added, “there is still a bit to go in this process. There is still a meeting tomorrow and a vote, and I don’t want to get too far ahead of that.”
The minister went on to thank his party members, saying “we have gone through this process with unity and we will continue to do that.”
He committed to leading the country in a “strong, stable and unified” way but cautioned there were challenges ahead.
“I acknowledge that at the moment, we’re going through some economic turbulence and we’re going to have to navigate our way through there,” he said.
Hipkins also told reporters that he is “incredibly optimistic about New Zealand’s future” and is “really looking forward to the job.” I am feeling energized and enthusiastic.
He served almost two years as Covid-19 response minister in a country that kept infections and deaths relatively low after shutting its borders. He also oversaw New Zealand’s phased reopening before fully welcoming back all international travel last July.
Ardern said Thursday that she would stand aside for a new leader, saying she doesn’t believe she has the energy to seek reelection.
Speaking at a news conference then, Ardern said her term would end by February 7, when she expected a new Labor prime minister would be sworn in – though “depending on the process that could be earlier.”
Hipkins said Ardern – whose tenure coincided with a terrorist attack, natural disasters and a global pandemic – was “the leader that we needed at the time that we needed it.”
And he acknowledged that, like Ardern, he would be opening himself up to “a lot of scrutiny and a lot of criticism” by putting his name forward.
“I go into this job with my eyes wide open, knowing what I’ve stepped into,” Hipkins said.