Jacinda Ardern bids emotional farewell as Chris Hipkins becomes New Zealand prime minister

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New Zealand welcomed a new prime minister on Wednesday, six days after Jacinda Ardern’s shock resignation ahead of an upcoming election.

Chris Hipkins, 44, was sworn in on Wednesday at an inauguration ceremony in the capital Wellington.

Hipkins was first elected to Parliament in 2008 and spearheaded the country’s Covid-19 policies in 2020. Before becoming prime minister, he was minister of education, minister of police, minister for the public service, and leader of the house.

Hipkins was unanimously endorsed on Sunday by the ruling Labour party to succeed Ardern as its leader. He was the only nominee.

Videos show Ardern leaving Parliament on Wednesday to cheers and applause from onlookers. Several lawmakers and members of staff had gathered outside, some of whom were clearly emotional as they said goodbye.

Ardern attended her last official outing as prime minister on Tuesday, joining the annual Māori religious festival in the village of Rātana with Hipkins.

“I have experienced such love, compassion, empathy and kindness in the job. That has been my predominant experience. So I leave feeling gratitude for having this wonderful role for so many years,” Ardern told reporters at the event.

“I would hate for anyone to view my departure as a negative commentary on New Zealand,” she added.

Ardern said the most important advice she gave Hipkins is “you do you.”

“This is for him now. It’s for him to carve out his own space, be his own kind of leader. Actually, there is no advice I can really impart. I can share information, I can share experiences, but this is now for him,” she said.

“You won’t find me commenting on domestic politics, I’ve had my time,” Ardern said, adding: “I’m ready to be a backbench MP, I’m ready to be a sister and a mom.”

When Ardern became prime minister in 2017 at the age of 37 she was New Zealand’s third female leader and one of the youngest leaders in the world. Within a year, she had become only the second world leader to give birth in office.

She announced her intention to resign last Thursday, speaking candidly about the toll the job has taken and reflecting on the various crises she has faced as head of the nation, including both the Covid-19 pandemic and the deadly 2019 Christchurch terror attack.

“The only interesting angle that you will find is that after going on six years of some big challenges, I am human. Politicians are human,” she said. “We give all that we can for as long as we can, and then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.”

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