World

NZ PM's sudden resignation shocks country

WELLINGTON Popular New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced his shock resignation yesterday 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 family, AFP reported.

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

"But despite the amazing career, I have never seen myself as a career politician."

Mr Key, 55, recently marked his eighth anniversary as prime minister and 10th year as leader of the centre-right National Party, which is set to meet next week to elect his successor.

His deputy, Mr Bill English, who led the party to its worst result in the 2002 election, is seen as favourite to take over.

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

Mr Key - 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".

POLLS

Opinion polls had pointed to him being the first political leader in New Zealand 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."

Mr Key entered parliament in 2002 and assumed leadership of the National Party four years later. By 2008 he had ended nine years of Labour Party rule.

He won plaudits for his leadership during crises in his first term, including an earthquake in Christchurch in February 2011 which claimed 185 lives.

He also steadied the economy 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.

When he heard the news, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sent him a brief text message: "Say it ain't so bro", telling reporters in Melbourne he considered his close friend "one of the most outstanding national leaders in the world today".

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