The New Zealand Labor Party has unanimously endorsed Education Minister Chris Hipkins to succeed current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as party leader.

Hipkins was the only candidate for the leadership position, so his endorsement on Sunday was largely a formality.

At a press conference in Wellington after the decision, Hipkins said: ‘Earlier today the Labor caucus, the Labor team of MPs unanimously endorsed me as the new leader and next Prime Minister of New Zealand.”

“I want to salute the outgoing Prime Minister, my very good friend Jacinda Ardern. She was one of New Zealand’s great prime ministers,” Hipkins added.

Ardern said she would step down from the nation’s top job in a surprise announcement last Thursday, citing exhaustion.

She has yet to officially step down as prime minister to New Zealand’s governor-general – a necessary step to formalize the decision.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Ardern said her term would end on February 7, when she expected a new Labor prime minister to be sworn in – although “according to the process that could be sooner”.

Hipkins said he expects to be sworn in on Wednesday.

A career politician who entered parliament in 2008, Hipkins became a household name while leading New Zealand’s handling of the pandemic as minister for Covid-19 response in Ardern’s cabinet. In addition to being Minister of Education, he is also Minister of Police and Civil Service and Leader of the House.

Speaking to reporters after nominations closed on Saturday morning, Hipkins pledged to lead the country in a “strong, stable and unified” way, but warned there were challenges ahead.

“I recognize that right now we are going through economic turbulence and we are going to have to work our way through it,” he said.

Hipkins also told reporters he was “incredibly optimistic about New Zealand’s future” and was “really looking forward to the job”. I feel full of energy and enthusiastic.

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