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New Zealand's ruling Labor Party will vote for a new leader after Jacinda Ardern's resignation


New Zealand has a new interim prime minister following the shock resignation of Jacinda Ardern last week. On Sunday afternoon local time, the ruling Labor Party voted unanimously to replace Ardern with the current education minister, Chris Hipkins. He was the party's sole nominee. Reporter Ashley Westerman has more.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: Veteran politician Chris Hipkins may not be a global name like the woman he's replacing, but experts say he's been crucial to Jacinda Ardern's success.

MADISON BURGESS-SMITH: He is, by many people, considered to be Ardern's Mr. Fix-It. When there has been a political or a policy challenge for Ardern, he has been put on the job.

WESTERMAN: That's Madison Burgess-Smith, a political consultant with Iron Duke Partners. Most notably, Hipkins, as the minister of health, helped orchestrate New Zealand's world-leading response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

BURGESS-SMITH: You had a very low death toll. You had the virus basically stamped out for a full year within the middle of the pandemic. So when many people see Hipkins, they associate him very closely with the success of the pandemic.

WESTERMAN: She says Hipkins' ties to Ardern may have gotten him the Labor Party's nomination to succeed her, but whether the move will help them maintain power after October's general elections is still unknown. Despite Ardern's rock-star international image, things aren't going as well domestically. Over the last year, New Zealanders have heavily criticized the way she's handled the economy and an uptick in crime. Ardern's popularity has taken a hit, and her party is now falling behind in the polls to the opposition. Brad Thomas is a political commentator and former government press secretary.

BRAD THOMAS: This does make it harder for Labor to win. It's certainly a tough road ahead for Hipkins.

WESTERMAN: What may help, he says, is that Hipkins is more pragmatic about the economy and slightly more hard-liner when it comes to law and order. Meanwhile, the career politician also brings to the table a different political prowess.

THOMAS: Certainly not as kind of constrained by ideas of sort of kindness and empathy in the way that he's conducted his political career, which probably suits him sort of for the trench warfare of the kind of coming election.

WESTERMAN: Hipkins will officially take over for Ardern when she steps down in February. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Westerman in Boracay, Philippines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.
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