21 Jan 2023

Deadline looms for MPs wishing to contest Labour leadership

6:32 am on 21 January 2023
Education and Police Minister Chris Hipkins (left) and Transport Minister Michael Wood (right) are likely to be among the frontrunners to take over Labour's leadership, says political commentator Peter Wilson.

Chris Hipkins (left) is seen to have the inside running to become Labour's new leader, though his colleague Michael Wood (right) is likely the other main contender. Photo: RNZ

Labour MPs are preparing to pick the country's next prime minister in what will be the party's first vote of its kind since 2017.

If there is only one, uncontested candidate, that person could named as early as this morning.

Jacinda Ardern caught everyone - including some of her own colleagues - off guard when she announced her surprise resignation just a few days ago.

The strong signal from MPs now is they want it done by the end of the weekend. If the caucus can come to an agreement and put forward just one nominee, while they would still have to be formally endorsed by caucus, they would effectively be named as her successor.

Seen to have the inside running is senior minister Chris Hipkins, although his colleague Michael Wood would be the other main contender.

There is currently no vacancy for deputy party leader, but that could come into play during negotiations to put forward a consensus candidate.

Labour's 15-strong Māori caucus was planning to meet today, to have a kōrero about the leadership position ahead of Sunday's vote, but those discussions may have taken on even more urgency during any negotiations towards settling on a 'unity' candidate.

If there is more than one nominee, they will not be named today and the vote at Parliament will go ahead early tomorrow afternoon, where the prospective winner would have to secure the support of at least two thirds of the caucus.

If it does go to a vote, chief whip and returning officer Duncan Webb said there would be an exhaustive ballot, which means it would be carried out by rounds, with the lowest-polling candidate removed at the end of each round.

It would continue until one candidate had two thirds of the vote or more, or there were two candidates and neither could secure two thirds of the vote. There are no limits on the number of votes to be taken.

If a candidate cannot get over the line in the caucus vote, it then goes out to the broader membership.

Ardern was first voted in as leader in 2017 - taking over from Andrew Little just seven weeks out from the general election. If the contest is settled by Sunday, her successor will likely be stepping into prime ministerial duties from Monday morning.

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