Could a Maori soon lead New Zealand?
Nafter the Prime Minister announced his resignation Jacinda Ardern there are calls in New Zealand for a successor of indigenous descent. “Ladies and gentlemen, we need a Maori at the helm,” wrote journalist Joel Maxwell in a comment on Friday. The 42-year-old head of government announced on Thursday that she would resign from office by February 7 and not want to run as a candidate in the election scheduled for October 14. She does not regret the decision, said Jacinda Ardern, who justified the withdrawal with exhaustion, in front of journalists on Friday. Instead, she feels relieved. “I slept well last night for the first time in a long time,” said Ardern.
About their succession will be held a conference of the ruling labor party decide on Sunday. So far, no one from the party has expressed their intention to throw their hat in the ring. It seems clear who won’t: Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who many would think of as the first possible successor, had already ruled out a candidacy on Thursday. But there is a small field of three to four people who could be potential future Labor leaders and thus prime ministers, including two women of Maori origin.
The most promising candidate, however, is the European-born Minister of Education and Police, Chris Hipkins. The 44-year-old Ardern confidante can look back on a similarly long Labor history as the Prime Minister. As Minister for COVID-19 Response, Hipkins was Ardern’s crisis manager during the pandemic. Commentator Bryce Edwards therefore sees him as the “obvious” choice. He has the necessary experience and respect across party lines. Hipkins himself has kept a low profile and on Thursday advocated letting the news of the prime minister’s resignation sink in first.
One argument against Hipkins is that he might be considered “too boring,” Edwards commented. In the party he is seen as pale and part of the old guard. It looks very different with another candidate who is increasingly being discussed for the successor. Justice Minister Kiri Allan, 39, comes from a family with Maori and Scottish roots. The lawyer is the ninth in a family of 10 and a cousin of New Zealand Hollywood director Taika Waititi. After the legalization of same-sex marriages in New Zealand in 2016 she married her partner at the time. In 2021, she took some time off after being diagnosed with cancer. After three months, freed from cancer, she reported back to Parliament. Bryce Edwards sees the talented orator as a candidate who could inspire enthusiasm in the party. She could also make history as New Zealand’s first woman prime minister.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta also has a Maori background. A few years ago, she was the first representative of the people to appear in parliament with a “Moko Kauae”, a traditional chin tattoo. At the moment, however, she is probably not the preferred candidate among party comrades. The chances for Transport and Immigration Minister Michael Wood also appear to be a bit off. He also did not want to confirm on Friday whether he would apply to succeed Ardern. “I’m a team player,” he says to journalists. However, he assumes that the party conference on Sunday will find a consensus candidate, said the minister.
The party statutes provide that a party leader is elected by a two-thirds majority in the conference. If this does not succeed on Sunday, the entire party base will then be called to vote. In the New Zealand system, the leader of the ruling party automatically assumes the post of Prime Minister. Around 17 percent of New Zealand’s five million inhabitants are Maori.