KOMPAS.com – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern handed over the Labor leadership to Chris Hipkins in an emotional caucus meeting in Wellington on Sunday, Jan. 22, as party MPs endorsed Hipkins to become the country's next prime minister.
The pair — longtime friends and political allies — walked side by side through the halls of NZ's parliament house before the caucus vote on Sunday in a show of unity.
Hipkins was the sole nominee from Labor's caucus to succeed Ardern as leader after her bombshell announcement on Thursday that she was standing down due to exhaustion.
On entering the meeting, the pair embraced and were met with raucous applause.
The 64-member Labor caucus unanimously voted Hipkins the new party leader, with the current education minister running uncontested for the role.
The vote was largely a formality, as party members rallied behind the 44-year-old after Ardern's announcement to avoid a drawn-out leadership contest in the lead up to this year's New Zealand election.
In a press conference held after the vote, Hipkins said his government would focus on the "bread and butter" issues that low- and middle-income New Zealanders, as well as small business owners, faced.
He said his government would be focused on helping families struggling "through these tough economic times", making note of inflation and housing affordability issues faced by New Zealanders.
"You shouldn't have to be on a six-figure salary to buy a new house," he said.
He vowed to re-focus the government's agenda ahead of a cabinet reshuffle, as well as pledging to strengthen the country's public services.
Hipkins praised his "very good friend" Ardern for her leadership, noting she was a particular inspiration for women and girls worldwide.
The caucus also voted for Labor MP Carmel Sepuloni as Hipkins's incoming deputy on Sunday, who Hipkins said would become the first Pasifika person to hold the position of deputy prime minister.
Sepuloni, a Taranaki-raised Auckland-based MP, is a former teacher with Samoan and Tongan heritage.
Hipkins expects to be officially sworn in as New Zealand's 41st prime minister on Wednesday.