Chris Hipkins was confirmed on Sunday as New Zealand’s next prime minister and chose Carmel Sepuloni as his deputy, marking the first time a person with Pacific Islander heritage has risen to that rank.
Hipkins won the unanimous support of his Labor Party lawmakers after he was the only candidate running to replace Jacinda Ardern, who shocked the nation on Thursday when she announced she was stepping down after more than five years as leader.
Hipkins will be officially sworn into his new role on Wednesday. He will have less than nine months before contesting a tough general election, and opinion polls indicate his party is trailing its conservative opposition.
The lack of other candidates for leader indicated that the party’s lawmakers had rallied behind Hipkins to avoid a protracted contest and any sign of disunity following Ardern’s departure.
In setting his priorities, Hipkins said he knew many families were struggling due to the “inflation pandemic” and that the economy would be central to his government’s thinking.
Asked if he would take the same government transformation approach Ardern had promised after winning the top spot, Hipkins indicated he wanted to go back to basics.
“We will deliver a very strong government that focuses on the basic issues that are important to New Zealanders and that are relevant to the times we find ourselves in now,” Hipkins said. “2017 was five and a half years. -half a year ago, and a lot has happened since then.
Like Hipkins, Sepuloni first became a lawmaker 15 years ago and recently took over the social development and employment portfolios as one of the government’s top ministers.
She said it was “very hard to imagine that a working-class girl” from a small town in New Zealand could end up as deputy prime minister.
“I want to recognize the importance of this for our Pacific community,” Sepuloni said. “I am proudly a Samoan, Tongan and European New Zealander, representing generations of New Zealanders with mixed heritage.”
Sepuloni said he had already been receiving many humbling messages about another glass ceiling being broken.
Opposition leader Christopher Luxon told reporters that he had congratulated Hipkins by text message. But Luxon said Hipkins and Sepuloni had been part of a government that had “spectacularly failed” to get things done and that after the change in leadership, it would be more of the same.