John Key has resigned as New Zealand’s prime minister, saying it felt like “the right time to go” and that he wanted to leave on his own terms ahead of next year’s general election.
Mr Key, a former Merrill Lynch banker who won three consecutive elections and whose National party is ahead in opinion polls, said he would vote for Bill English, deputy prime minister, in a caucus meeting next week to choose a new party leader who will succeed him as prime minister.
“Whoever the caucus selects will have my unwavering support but if Bill English puts his name forward then I will vote for him,” said Mr Key.
“For 10 years now, Bill and I have worked as a team. I have witnessed first-hand his leadership style, his capacity for work, his grasp of the economy, his commitment to change and most of all his decency.”
The New Zealand dollar fell almost 1 per cent following his announcement.
Mr Key, a 55-year-old former investment banker and foreign exchange trader, has overseen a dramatic turnround in New Zealand’s fortunes since he was elected to power during a recession in 2008. His government has cut personal taxes and engaged in the partial sale of some state assets to stimulate the economy. He has benefited from a dramatic rise in dairy sales to China, which has emerged as New Zealand’s biggest trading partner since the two countries signed a trade deal in 2008.
Mr Key told reporters he resigned due to a combination of factors, including a desire to spend more time with his family and the need to make room for new political talent.
“One of the things that I have always believed in is making room for new talent, and let’s be blunt, I have taken the knife to some other people and now I am taking the knife to myself to allow others to come through and have those opportunities, and that is a healthy thing, it’s a good thing.” he said.
Mr Key said there was no way he could serve out a full fourth term in office and he could not mislead the public about his intentions during an election campaign. He said he felt many political leaders tended to stay on too long in the job and he wanted to step down on his own terms.
“I really felt I was not a career politician and I was right,” he said.
Bronwyn Hayward, politics professor at the University of Canterbury, said Mr Key’s resignation “changed everything” with regard to the National Party’s prospects in the next election.
“It is very difficult to tell how much of John Key’s popularity will transfer on to the Nationals,” she said. “Labour has polled poorly as its leader, Andrew Little, is not as charismatic as Key but the party could get a boost now,” she said.
The stability of New Zealand’s government over the past decade has been in stark contrast to its closest neighbour Australia, where five prime ministers have taken office in just six years.
Tony Abbott, former Australian prime minister, tweeted a message of support to Mr Key stating: “Fine innings from John Key. Not many pollies retire unbeaten on a double ton.”
Mark Textor, managing director of Crosby Textor and an adviser to Mr Key, said public trust, judgment and decisiveness were critical factors to his success as prime minister.
“He always signalled what he would do next. He didn’t surprise people,” said Mr Textor. “He made the case to the public and made sure he left no one behind.”
Mr Key leaves New Zealand’s economy in good health with gross domestic product growing at an annual rate of 3.6 per cent.
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