JACOB VILLEGAS WRITES – New Zealand has a new Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, but who exactly is he? Following the unfortunate resignation of the former Prime Minster, Jacinda Ardern in mid-January, Hipkins was sworn in as New Zealand’s 41st Prime Minister on January 25th. Although Hipkins is newly installed, he seems similar to his predecessor in more ways than one.

He is certainly a youngish Prime Minister at age 44, as was the much-admired Ardern. Like her, he is well educated and a member of the Labour Party. He attended Victoria University in Wellington, where he studied politics and criminology. Victoria University is progressive in the pronounced way it strives to cultivate an environment for students that is inclusive, equitable and diverse.

Once he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Hipkins worked in the industry training sector as well as in Parliament as a Senior Advisor to education ministers and for the former Prime Minister Helen Clark. His life’s work has revolved around politics since his college years, which has prepared him for the new position he finds himself in.

He has been leader of New Zealand’s Labour Party since 2023 and has been a member of the local Parliament of Remutaka since 2008. The Party platform includes plans to combat climate change, the housing crisis and healthcare. In addition, the Party aims to work closely with the indigenous Māori, the first to inhabit New Zealand over one thousand years ago. The term Māori not only refers to the people but the language and culture, including traditional full body and face tattoos.

According to the Labour Party’s official website, “Chris passionately believes that every New Zealander deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential in life. He is a staunch advocate for and defender of our public education system. Chris believes that a free, quality education is the right of every child.” These are strong statements. We can only hope that his policies will be as effective as his rhetoric.

Ironically, helping the marginalized is one of the issues, along with housing, that Arden had been criticized for neglecting. Before becoming Prime Minister, Hipkins was known for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He admitted to making mistakes in attempting to contain it. His recent focus has been on the cost of living for Kiwis (New Zealand citizens), which coincides with the Labour Party’s mission of affordable housing (The term “Kiwi” comes from the flightless breed of bird that inhabits New Zealand. Before and during World War I, cartoonists used  an avatar to represent New Zealand, and New Zealand soldiers were referred to as Kiwis).

With general elections every three years, the next one is due in October. By the end of last year, the Labour Party’s support had dropped from 40% to a meager 33%. This does not bode well for Hipkins, but the election outcome just might hinge on whether he upholds the promises he has made to the people of New Zealand. In many respects the people don’t want less Ardern at its best but more.

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