The 44-year-old faces an uphill battle to lead the ruling Labor Party to victory in October’s election amid rising inflation and a looming recession.
Labor Party leader Chris Hipkins has been sworn in as New Zealand’s new prime minister following Jacinda Ardern’s surprise resignation last week.
Hipkins officially took office in front of New Zealand’s Governor-General – the representative of Britain’s King Charles who is the head of state – in the capital, Wellington.
Carmel Sepuloni was also sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister, the first person of Pacific Islander descent to hold the post, during the ceremony.
“This is the greatest privilege and responsibility of my life,” Hipkins said afterward.
“I am energized and excited about the challenges ahead.”
The 44-year-old, who previously led the country’s response to COVID-19, was elected to head the party on Sunday after Arden announced she would step down.
Hundreds of people gathered in the courtyard of parliament, breaking into spontaneous applause, when Ardern left for the last time.
She hugged each of her members of parliament in turn, many looking visibly emotional, before traveling to Government House, where she tendered her resignation to Governor-General Cindy Kiro.
Ardern was first elected prime minister in 2017, before riding the wave of “Jacindamania” to secure a second term with a landslide victory in 2020.
But her centre-left government has increasingly struggled over the past two years, hampered by soaring inflation, a looming recession and a renewed opposition.
Known as “Chippy”, Hipkins is well known to New Zealanders for his expertise in the fight against COVID-19.
He describes himself as a “regular, ordinary Kiwi” from a working-class background who likes sausage rolls and cycling to work.
“The COVID-19 and the global pandemic have created a health crisis. Now it’s created economically and that’s where my government will be focused,” Hipkins said earlier.
A 1News-Kantar poll published in December 2022 showed Labour’s support had fallen to 33 percent from 40 percent earlier in the year, meaning Labor would not be able to form a majority even with traditional coalition partner the Green Party at 9 percent.
The conservative National Party has profited from Labour’s decline.