New Zealand’s new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins begins choosing cabinet

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Jan. 22 (UPI) — New Zealand’s Labor Party caucus selected Chris Hipkins to succeed Jacinda Ardern as the country’s next prime minister.

Hipkins will be sworn in Wednesday, one week after Ardern announced her intention to resign. He was the only candidate discussed when his party unanimously threw its support behind him on Saturday.

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“It’s been a big day for this boy from the Hutt. I’m humbled and honored to be the sole nominee for Labor Party leader and therefore prime minister of New Zealand,” Hipkins said on Facebook.

“I’m proud to lead such a strong, talented and unified team. I’m incredibly optimistic about New Zealand’s future and the opportunities ahead.”

Hipkins said in a press conference from the Labor Party retreat that his government will be focused on New Zealand’s economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He projects a “return to surplus” quickly due to the largely mitigating efforts of the country’s pandemic response.

The new prime minister named Carmel Cipollone deputy prime minister. He plans to name the rest of his cabinet next week. He touted the Cipollone’s work in combating labor challenges such as unemployment among her most impressive feats.

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Hipkins will be with Ardern during her last public engagement as prime minister on Tuesday.

In her resignation announcement, Ardern said she “does not have enough in the tank” to continue into her sixth year as prime minister. The Labor Party was given seven days to select a new prime minister by a two-thirds vote.

“She’s been one of New Zealand’s great prime ministers,” Hipkins said, according to The Hill.

“Jacinda provided inspirational leadership through a quick succession of the biggest challenges our country has faced.”

Hipkins worked closely with Ardern to navigate one of the world’s most effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Johns Hopkins University reports 2,439 deaths in New Zealand.

The 44-year-old’s term will last eight months before he faces a general election on Oct. 14.

Hipkins joined parliament in 2008 and became spokesman for education in 2013.