Sydney, Australia, Jul 14 (efe-epa).- The leader of the main opposition National Party in New Zealand resigned on Tuesday, citing health reasons just 67 days out from the country’s general election.
Todd Muller, who on May 22 was elected new head of the center-right party in a leadership spill that ousted Simon Bridges, assumed command to challenge Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern in the elections scheduled for Sep. 19.
The Bay of Plenty MP had been in the job just 53 days before ending his short run at 7.30 am.
“It has become clear to me that I am not the best person to be leader of the Opposition and leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time for New Zealand,” Muller said in a statement.
“The role has taken a heavy toll on me personally, and on my family, and this has become untenable from a health perspective,” he added.
The party’s shell shocked lawmakers were due to hold an emergency caucus meeting in Wellington on Tuesday evening to begin the process of finding a new leader.
Muller’s deputy Nikki Kaye is now the acting leader of the National Party.
“My thoughts are with Todd Muller & his family. Opposition Leader is a very tough role & I wish Todd and his family the best for the future,” ex-party leader Bridges wrote on Twitter.
He has not ruled out re-running for the top job.
PM Ardern expressed sympathy for Muller.
“No matter what side of Parliament you’re sitting, politics is a difficult place,” she said in a statement.
According to the latest polls published by the local press, Ardern’s Labour Party has a considerable advantage leading up to the elections and the party could even reach an absolute majority.
The popularity of the prime minister, who took office in 2017 after forming a coalition with New Zealand First nationalists and Green Party environmentalists, has sprung from the management of the three major crises that her government has faced – the Christchurch mosque terror attack, the Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption and the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Zealand, with just over 1,000 coronavirus cases, including 21 deaths, has been one of the most successful countries in fighting the virus after acting quickly and applying strict lockdown measures to its entire population. EFE-EPA