Sydney, Australia, July 15 (efe-epa).- New Zealand’s opposition National Party has elected a new leader to face off with popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in September’s general election just two months away.
Late on Tuesday night, Judith Collins took over the top job after Todd Muller, who had taken up the role in a leadership spill just 53 days prior, stepped down citing health reasons.
“My focus as leader will be helping rebuild our communities and dealing with the economic and jobs crisis by getting Kiwis back to work,” she said in a statement released by the center-right party.
Former foreign minister Gerry Brownlee, 64, was elected as her deputy, replacing Nicky Kaye.
“I am hoping that the National Party can crush the other lot when it comes to September 19,” 61-year-old Collins said after her election.
She appeared to refer to her nickname “Crusher Collins,” which she was given as police minister after passing a law that would enable authorities as a third-strike punishment to crush the vehicles of “boy racers” – youth in modified cars that race the streets.
Collins, a former lawyer, has been an MP for Auckland electorates since 2002. She has held ministerial portfolios in the areas of Justice, Corrections, Police, Energy and Resources, and Revenue.
It is the third time she has vied for National’s top job – once after the resignation of John Key in 2016 and again after his successor Bill English resigned in 2018. She is the party’s second female leader.
An admirer of Margaret Thatcher, with a reputation for being tough talking and at times combative, come the September vote, Collins will face 39-year-old Ardern, known globally for her kindness and compassion.
In latest polling, Ardern’s center-left Labour party is ahead as favorite to win.
“There is no chance at all that I’m going to let Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern get away with any nonsense when it comes to the economy and doing her job. We will hold her to account,” Collins said.
She added that her “experience and toughness” set her apart from Ardern, although added that the prime minister “is not someone you should ever underestimate.”
Political commentator Josie Pagani told broadcaster Newshub that Collins is “the crusher of Jacinda’s kindness… and there’s a benefit to that.”
“You kind of want to see that arched eyebrow verses the tilted head compassion from Jacinda — you want to see that in a TV debate, that’s good TV.” EFE-EPA