Bill English is set to become New Zealand’s next prime minister following the shock resignation this week of John Key.
The two other challengers for the role both conceded on Thursday, saying that English had secured the majority support he needed from his 58 National Party colleagues in the parliament.
The conservative party’s caucus meets on Monday and will officially pick Key’s successor.
English has been Key’s trusted deputy prime minister for the past eight years and has been praised for his handling of the economy in his role as finance minister. But critics say the 54-year-old lacks the charisma needed for the top job. English has previously led his party, taking them to a big defeat in the 2002 election.
Key had been a popular leader and was widely expected to contest a fourth straight election next year before his surprise resignation on Monday. Key said he wanted to leave while he was on top of his game and to spend more time with his wife and two children. During his resignation speech, Key endorsed English as the next prime minister.
As leader, English will get to choose the date of next year’s election. Before the leadership change most people had expected it to be held in September, but some lawmakers are now calling for an earlier vote.
English on Thursday told reporters that events had been happening “pretty fast” over the last few days and he wanted to wait until he was confirmed by the caucus before outlining his plans.
“I won’t be talking about being a prime minister until I am one,” he said.
The other contenders for the role were Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Corrections Minister Judith Collins. Both said they would now back English.
“I’m going to be supporting him 100 percent,” Coleman said. “It is absolutely vital that the party comes together and gets on with the job of winning the next election.”
English has been a politician for 26 years, after he was first elected to the parliament in 1990. He said he’s gained wisdom and experience since leading the party to an election defeat.
“I was 39 years old then, with six children under 13,” he said. “So if nothing else, I’ve got the opportunity to focus much more on the job now.”
Under English, New Zealand has been enjoying relatively robust annual GDP growth of more than 3 percent and the unemployment rate has fallen below 5 percent. English has also managed to return small surpluses on the government’s books over the past couple of years.
English said he will deliver tax cuts and spread the country’s growing wealth to where it is needed.