Wellington: At least three senior ministers joined the race to replace New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday, a day after Key stunned the nation by resigning to spend more time with his family, with his deputy Bill English seen as the front-runner.
English, the finance minister and deputy leader of the ruling centre-right National Party, announced his candidacy, as did health minister Jonathan Coleman and police minister Judith Collins. Other contenders may yet still emerge before the party holds a caucus meeting on Monday to vote for a new leader.
English has been endorsed by Key but all three said they believed they had significant support in the 51-member caucus.
“I can see fantastic opportunities for stronger economic performance, for spreading the benefits of growth for more New Zealanders. I am a candidate for leadership,” English told reporters after a caucus meeting in New Zealand’s distinctive “Beehive” parliament building in the capital, Wellington.
Several others, including immigration minister Michael Woodhouse and primary industry minister Nathan Guy, have declared their support for English.
Other potential candidates include senior cabinet minister Steven Joyce, fellow cabinet minister Paula Bennett and energy minister Simon Bridges.
National elections are not expected until late 2017.
“I’m very focused on the fact that I would not be putting my name forward if I didn’t have a very good chance at leading us into a victory in 2017,” Collins told reporters.
A recent UMR survey of voters pegged English as a favourite to replace Key on 21%, followed by Joyce on 16%, Bennett on 11% and Collins on 6%. Coleman was not ranked in the survey, which was conducted in early October.
“I am seeking the party leadership and I am absolutely up for the challenge. I believe I have got the energy, I have got the relative youth on my side and I am absolutely focused on winning this leadership contest,” Coleman told reporters.
Key has been New Zealand’s leader since 2008 and the National Party is part-way through a third, three-year term that has been marked by political stability and economic reform.
He remains one of the world’s most popular leaders, praised for his stewardship of New Zealand’s $170 billion economy in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and two devastating earthquakes in Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island.
Moody’s Investors Services said it did not expect to change New Zealand’s Aaa credit rating as a result of Key’s resignation and expected the country’s “very strong institutions to lead to a smooth tradition and policy continuity”.