Hipkins sworn in as New Zealand PM, pledges focus on economy

WELLINGTON, New Zealand >> Chris Hipkins was sworn in as New Zealand’s 41st prime minister on Wednesday after Jacinda Ardern unexpectedly resigned last week.

Hipkins, 44, has promised a back-to-basics approach focused on the economy and what he calls an “inflationary pandemic.”

He will have less than nine months before contesting a tough general election, with opinion polls showing his Labor Party lagging behind its Conservative opposition.

New Zealand Governor-General Cindy Kiro led the brief inauguration ceremony in front of his friends and colleagues, having previously accepted Ardern’s resignation.

“This is the greatest privilege and responsibility of my life,” Hipkins said at the ceremony. “I’m full of energy and excited for the challenges ahead.”

Carmel Sepuloni was also sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister, the first time a person of Pacific Island heritage has assumed the role. She congratulated Hipkins and thanked him for the trust he had placed in her.

After the ceremony, Hipkins told reporters, “It feels pretty real now.”

Hipkins is known to many by the nickname “Chippy,” befitting his upbeat personality and home handyman skills.

Under Ardern he served as Education and Police Minister. He rose to public prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic when he took on a crisis management role of sorts. But he and other liberals have long been overshadowed by Ardern, who has become a global left icon and pioneered a new style of leadership.

Ardern said last week she was stepping down after more than five years in the role because she no longer had “enough in the tank” to do the job. “It’s that simple,” she said.

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On Tuesday, she made her last official appearance as Prime Minister and said what she would miss most was the people because they were the “joy of the job”. She was greeted with hugs and goodbyes by dozens of former staffers and admirers on Parliament’s forecourt on Wednesday morning as she exited the building.

Ardern plans to stay on as a backbench until April to avoid triggering a special election before October’s general election.

New Zealand’s head of state is Britain’s King Charles III, and Kiro is his representative in New Zealand, although the nation’s relationship with the monarchy is largely symbolic these days.

Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate thanked Ardern on Twitter “for your friendship, guidance and support over the years, not least at the time of my grandmother’s death. Sending you, Clarke and Neve, our best wishes. TOILET”

Clarke Gayford is Ardern’s fiancee and Neve is her 4-year-old daughter.

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