New Zealand finance minister secures backing to become PM

Xinhua | Updated: 2016-12-08 11:22

WELLINGTON - New Zealand Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English looked set to step into the prime minister's shoes Thursday with at least half his ruling party Parliamentary caucus declaring their support for him.

English was endorsed by outgoing Prime Minister John Key in his shock resignation speech on Monday, but a seamless transition was disrupted when Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Judith Collins, who holds the Police and Corrections portfolios, threw their hats in the ring.

However, it was widely reported that English on Thursday had the declared support of at least 30 of the 59-strong caucus of the ruling center-right National Party -- enough to take the leadership if it came to the vote scheduled for Dec 12.

Radio New Zealand reported that Collins had withdrawn from the race that same day and declared her support for English.

It also reported that English had said he would give Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce the key finance portfolio, should he become prime minister.

With English now looking certain to be New Zealand's new leader, more attention would now be given to his deputy, said the report.

On Wednesday, Climate Change Issues Minister Paula Bennett and Transport Minister Simon Bridges both put their names forward to be English's deputy should he win the top job.

English, 54, was a farmer in the far south of the South Island and policy analyst at the New Zealand Treasury before being elected to Parliament in 1990.

He became National Party leader in 2001 and led the party to its worst ever general election defeat in 2002.

He has been deputy to Key and Finance Minister since the National Party was returned to power in 2008.

He now appears likely to lead the party into the next general election, which is expected later next year, although he could decide to call it earlier.

English told Radio New Zealand Tuesday that the circumstances were different now.

"The National Party was different, the political environment was quite different, I've worked closely with the prime minister, learnt an awful lot in those 15 years and I think it's partly because of that experience I can see the opportunities ahead," he said.

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