New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key says he is resigning after some eight years in office, taking the country by surprise with the abrupt announcement.
55-year-old Key cited family matters as the reason for his sudden resignation.
Speaking at a weekly media conference in Wellington on Monday, he said it had been “the hardest decision” he had ever made.
He was first elected prime minister in 2008 and has led the National Party since ten years ago.
“It’s been a decade of a lot of long, lonely nights for her,” he said in reference to his wife, adding, “And it’s the right time for me to come home… On a family basis, I don’t think I could commit much longer.”
Key, who is a wealthy former stock broker, said he would stay in the parliament so the National Party would not need to go through by-elections.
The National Party is set to hold a meeting on December 12 to choose Key’s successor. Key said he would vote for his deputy and finance minister, Bill English, to take over if his name is put forward.
English told reporters at a press conference that he had not yet decided whether to stand for leadership but did not rule it out.
He praised the prime minister’s “intelligence, optimism and integrity” and said he would be “judged by history as one of New Zealand’s greatest leaders.”
If English becomes prime minister, he would likely continue with many of Key’s core policies, analysts say.
Winston Peters, the leader of the rival New Zealand First Party, hinted that the country needed a change in policy. He said Key had consistently misled the public about the state of the economy, and his resignation showed he was “unable to muddy the waters anymore.”