World

English set to become NZ PM

WELLINGTON:New Zealand's Finance Minister Bill English became the presumptive prime minister yesterday as his two challengers pulled out of the race to succeed Mr John Key.

His confirmation as leader-in-waiting came as he highlighted infrastructure spending as a priority and downplayed the possibility of tax cuts which Mr Key had only two weeks ago hinted were possible ahead of next year's general election.

As the numbers mounted in favour of Mr English, who Mr Key named his preferred successor when he resigned suddenly earlier this week, Police Minister Judith Collins and Health Minister Jonathan Coleman withdrew their nominations.

Local media had earlier reported that the 54-year-old English had majority support within the ruling National Party caucus.

"At least 30 MPs have committed to backing Mr English, meaning he has half of the votes of National's 59-vote caucus," the New Zealand Herald reported.

"It is clear to me that 50 per cent of the caucus support Bill English as the leader and therefore, as far as I'm concerned, he has won," Ms Collins said. A caucus vote on the leadership is still scheduled for Monday.

Should he become prime minister, Mr English has named Mr Steven Joyce, the Economic Development Minister, as the new Finance Minister and handed him a positive set of surplus forecasts.

The government's half-yearly economic update forecasts strong growth of around 3 per cent over the next five years with falling unemployment and rising incomes.

The popular Mr Key resigned for family reasons, having recently marked his eighth anniversary as PM. - AFP

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