By Nick Perry | Associated Press
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Education Minister Chris Hipkins is set to become New Zealand’s next prime minister after he was the only candidate to enter the contest Saturday to replace Jacinda Ardern.
Hipkins, 44, must still get an endorsement Sunday from his Labour Party colleagues in Parliament but that is just a formality now.
Ardern shocked the nation of 5 million people Thursday when she announced she was resigning after five-and-a-half years in the top role.
The lack of other candidates indicated party lawmakers had rallied behind Hipkins to avoid a drawn-out contest and any sign of disunity following Ardern’s departure.
Hipkins will have less than eight months in the role before contesting a general election. Opinion polls have indicated that Labour is trailing the main opponent, the conservative National Party.
Hipkins rose to public prominence during the coronavirus pandemic, when he took on a kind of crisis management role. But he and other liberals have long been in the shadow of Ardern, who became a global icon of the left and exemplified a new style of leadership.
Just 37 when she became leader, Ardern was praised around the world for her handling of the nation’s worst-ever mass shooting and the early stages of the pandemic. But she faced mounting political pressures at home and a level of vitriol from some that previous New Zealand leaders hadn’t faced.
Fighting back tears, Ardern told reporters on Thursday that she was leaving the role no later than Feb. 7.
“I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It is that simple,” she said.