Pop­u­lar leader calls it quits

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Welling­ton

Pop­u­lar New Zealand Prime Min­is­ter John Key an­nounced his shock res­ig­na­tion on Monday, say­ing he was never a ca­reer politi­cian and it was the right time to go af­ter eight years in the job.

The for­mer Mer­rill Lynch cur­rency trader called it “the hard­est de­ci­sion I’ve ever made”, with no plans on what to do next other than spend more time with his fam­ily.

“Being leader of both the party and the coun­try has been an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence,” he told a reg­u­lar weekly news con­fer­ence.

“But de­spite the amaz­ing ca­reer I have had in pol­i­tics, I have never seen my­self as a ca­reer politi­cian.”

Key re­cently marked his eighth an­niver­sary as prime min­is­ter and 10th year as leader of the cen­ter-right Na­tional Party, which is set to meet next week to elect his suc­ces­sor.

His deputy Bill English, who led the party to its worst re­sult in the 2002 elec­tion, is widely seen as fa­vorite to take over and was en­dorsed by Key, al­though he did not im­me­di­ately con­firm he wanted the role.

“Cer­tainly, I wouldn’t stand if there wasn’t strong cau­cus sup­port for me stand­ing,” he said, adding that since the 2002 flop he had re­ceived “a mas­ter­class ev­ery day from John Key about how to do pol­i­tics”.

As dis­cus­sion about Key’s de­ci­sion to walk away swirled around so­cial me­dia, the down-to-earth politi­cian — once voted the leader most New Zealan­ders would love to have a beer with — in­sisted he was “not the kind of guy that has to hang on to power for power’s sake”.

Opin­ion polls had con­sis­tently pointed to him be­com­ing the first po­lit­i­cal leader in New Zealand his­tory to win four con­sec­u­tive elec­tions when the coun­try votes next year, but he said records were not a con­sid­er­a­tion.

“If you’re stay­ing for the record of the time you’re stay­ing for the wrong rea­son,” he said.

“It’s been an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence and it’s been a real priv­i­lege and I’m go­ing to die happy — I hope that’s a long time in the fu­ture — but I’m go­ing to feel really proud of what we’ve done,” he said.

Key came into pol­i­tics rel­a­tively late, en­ter­ing par­lia­ment in 2002 and as­sum­ing lead­er­ship of the Na­tional Party four years later.

The 55-year-old also stead­ied the econ­omy af­ter the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis with­out re­sort­ing to hard-line spend­ing cuts, in­stead tak­ing a steady, prag­matic ap­proach that saw the bud­get re­turn to sur­plus in the 2015-16 fi­nan­cial year for the first time since 2008.

John Key, New Zealand’s prime min­is­ter

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