Support for New Zealand's Labour Party jumps after Hipkins replaces Ardern
WELLINGTON, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Support for New Zealand's Labour Party has jumped to its highest level in almost a year after Chris Hipkins replaced Jacinda Ardern as prime minister and leader of the Labour Party.
Two polls taken following Hipkins confirmation as leader by Newshub-Reid Research and 1News Kantar and published late on Monday saw the party's popularity jump more than 5 basis points to 38%. National is sitting at 37%, and is behind in Labour for the first time since early 2022.
Ardern, whose progressive policies, empathy and leadership during several crises had earned her a global profile, had faced mounting political headwinds at home in recent months. A backlash over COVID-19 restrictions, a worsening housing crisis, rising living costs, and growing concerns about crime had seen support for her government plummet.
Hipkins, a close ally of Ardern's, has in his first week in office worked to distance himself from the Ardern government and announced he plans to reprioritise and refine government policies.
Hipkins had nailed the political messaging and managed to reconnect with former Labour supporters, said political commentator and former National Party staffer Ben Thomas.
"The challenge from here is delivering on those expectations in an environment where inflation and interest rates remain high, and some unpopular policies may prove tricky to unpick," he said.
Under the current poll results and New Zealand's German-style proportional representation system, neither traditional coalition partners on the centre right or centre left would have the support needed to govern following an election scheduled for Oct. 14 and would likely need the support of another smaller party.
Hipkins announced a new Cabinet on Tuesday and reiterated the focus for the ministers would be on "core bread and butter issues like the cost of living, education, health, housing and keeping communities and businesses safe."
Grant Robertson will remain as finance minister, while Andrew Little will take over the defence portfolio from Peeni Henare.
Nanaia Mahuta will remain as foreign minster but Hipkins told a media conference he had taken away her other porfolios to free up time for her to focus more on foreign policy and allow her to travel more internationally.
Carmel Sepuloni, the new deputy prime minister, who is of Samoan, Tongan and European descent, will be associate foreign minister.
Hipkins said both he and Sepuloni were looking forward to engaging with the Pacific, where China has been increasing its influence.
"Our Pacific neighbours are incredibly important to us. Will they see more of us? Yes, absolutely," Hipkins said.
Hipkins's first official trip as prime minister will be to Australia next week where he is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
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