New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her surprise resignation on January 19 and is being replaced former Minister of Health Chris Hipkins. According to The Guardian Ardern cited burnout, a desire to exit politics, and wanting to spend more time with her partner and child as the reasons for her resignation in an announcement during the Labour Party’s first caucus meeting of the year.
Elected in 2017, Ardern led New Zealand through the COVID-19 pandemic and the Christchurch shooting. Many in the island nation expressed shocked at the announcement, which contrasts her previously stated intention to not resigning. Politicians and leaders have been supportive: National Party leader Christopher Luxon touted Ardern for her achievements while Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute to her strength and intellect.
Incoming Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, 44, ran unopposed in the 2023 New Zealand Labour Party leadership election on Jan. 22; three days later, he formally assumed the office of Prime Minister. Promising to focus more on every day New Zealanders and their issues, Hipkins wants to focus the government’s efforts towards cost of living and the economy, according to Newsroom New Zealand. While he did not mention specific policy details, Hipkins stated that he hopes to redirect the government’s priorities in the name of helping middle- and lower-income earners while also asserting that the environment remains a top concern.
Hipkins initially entered the New Zealand legislature in 2008 as a member of parliament and, prior to Jan. 25, he was New Zealand’s Minister for Police, Education and Public Service and Leader of the House. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Hipkins was appointed health minister and then COVID response minister. He played a significant role in the government’s response to the pandemic and developed a reputation for competence, Reuters reports.
According to The New York Times, although New Zealand’s COVID-19 mitigation policies succeeded in drastically reducing the death toll, they were some of the world’s most stringent and exhaustive restrictions during the early months of the pandemic. As the rest of the world opened their borders after much of the danger had been assuaged, New Zealand’s borders remained shut and resentment festered in the public. The impact of Hipkins’ legacy as health minister during this time on voters’ decisions will become clear when Hipkins faces Christopher Luxon in the October general election.
Hipkins criticized the many threats Ardern experienced during her time in office, vowing to protect his family from the same fate. According to BBC News, threats against Ardern had almost tripled over the past three years and included a man uploading videos onto YouTube in which he argues his right to shoot her for alleged treason. Hipkins, speaking after the uncontested Labour Party leadership election, addressed the “abhorrent” abuse that Ardern received, saying it does not represent who New Zealanders are as a country and that men have a responsibility to publicly criticize misogyny.
Image courtesy of Christoph Strassler, Flickr