Opinion polls indicate Jacinda Ardern’s successor has revived her party’s prospects for another term.
Chris Hipkins, a 44-year-old former head boy nicknamed “Chippy,” replaced Jacinda Ardern after she unexpectedly resigned in January.
He became New Zealand’s 41st Prime Minister on January 25 when he was appointed by the Governor-General.
Under Mr Hipkins, support for the ruling Labor Party is now 36 percent, two points ahead of the main opposition National Party, according to a 1News/Kantar poll published Monday.
The Green Party, a political ally of Labor, saw its support rise by four points to 11 percent.
If that level of support holds steady until New Zealand votes in October’s general election, Labor and the Greens would have the largest share of the vote.
However, they would need the support of the smaller Maori party to form a government.
Focus on the center
Since becoming prime minister, Mr. Hipkins has focused on winning back middle-class voters by jettisoning some of his predecessor’s more unpopular policies.
While she has been praised for her empathetic leadership style, Ms Ardern’s popularity has been undermined by the severe Covid lockdown she has imposed and a crime spree that has seen violent ram raids.
While her zero-Covid policy was initially critically acclaimed, it eventually had to be abandoned after New Zealanders took to the streets in protest at lockdown restrictions.
Critics said she spent too much time playing identity politics while failing to deliver on promises about reducing child poverty or tackling the housing supply.
Farmers protested her government’s plans to tax cow farmers and other gaseous emissions.
She announced her resignation at a press conference on January 19, saying she “no longer had enough in the tank” to continue in the role.
Known as “Mr Fixit” for his ability to take on challenging portfolios in government, Mr Hipkins’ profile was boosted when he took on the role of New Zealand’s Covid response minister during the pandemic.
He became even more famous after making a slip of the tongue that went viral suggesting that New Zealanders facing lockdown restrictions should “spread their legs” when he meant “stretch their legs”.
He is an old ally of Mrs. Ardern, father of two and admits to a fondness for sausage rolls and Coke Zero.
A student activist, he was once arrested outside parliament for protesting tertiary education reforms.