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New Zealand's Bill English Quits Politics After Election Loss

  • National Party expected to seek younger leader to test Ardern
  • ‘Very few serve for so long at such a high level,’ PM says

New Zealand National Party leader Bill English announced he is bowing out of politics, drawing the curtain on a 27-year career that included eight years as finance minister and nine months as prime minister.

English, 56, said he will resign as leader of the main opposition party on Feb. 27 and leave parliament early next month. National, which narrowly lost last year’s election to Labour’s Jacinda Ardern, will select a new leader in the coming weeks to take it into the next election.

“Our team has the talent, the ideas and the energy to return to government in 2020,” English told a press conference Tuesday in Wellington. “It’s important that National’s new leader has the time and the best possible opportunity to achieve that.”

While National secured a bigger slice of the vote than Labour in the Sept. 23 election, it was unable to stitch together a coalition with other parties to remain in government. In opposition it must now contend with the youthful Ardern, whose growing popularity suggests the country was ready for a generational change in leadership.

Speculation

Speculation had been mounting in recent weeks that English would have to go as National seeks to rejuvenate and develop allies -- a key requirement under New Zealand’s German-style proportional system. 

Younger National politicians such as Simon Bridges, Nikki Kaye, Amy Adams or deputy leader Paula Bennett are considered potential successors.

Ardern paid tribute to English, saying he had worked tirelessly in many key roles over his political career. 

“Very few serve for so long at such a high level, but garner the respect of many,” she said. “He is a man of clear convictions who has always had a genuine concern for the well-being of New Zealanders, and gave a huge portion of his working life to serving on their behalf.”

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