Sydney, Australia, May 22 (efe-epa).- New Zealand’s National Party on Friday elected Todd Muller in a secret ballot to lead the opposition into September’s general election, in which it hopes to win back power from the coalition government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Little known to most of New Zealand, 51-year-old Bay of Plenty region MP Muller ousted incumbent Simon Bridges during a leadership battle in a special caucus meeting, the party announced on its Twitter feed.
Auckland MP Nikki Kaye is the new deputy, replacing Paula Bennett.
“First and foremost I am about what’s best for you and your family, not what’s wrong with the government,” Muller said in his first press conference as leader. “I’m not interested in opposition for opposition’s sake. We’re all tired of that kind of politics.”
“We should all be proud of what we have achieved together. COVID-19 has hurt us. My absolute focus as the National Party leader will be New Zealand’s economic recovery,” he added.
Bridges said his two years at the helm had been a “heck of a ride.”
“I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every minute of it… but it’s been a blast,” he added, saying he would stay in politics for the time being, which Muller indicated he would welcome.
While Ardern’s popularity has skyrocketed over her handling of the coronavirus crisis and in the wake of last year’s Christchurch mosque massacre and the White Island volcanic eruption disaster, the rolling of Bridges come a day after a 1 News Colmar Brunton poll that saw the center-right National Party drop to its lowest support since 2003 with 29 percent, down 17 percentage points, compared to the 59 percent for Ardern’s center-left Labour Party (up 18 points).
Bridges had dropped six percentage points as preferred prime minister to just 5 percent with an approval rating of -40.
A Newshub-Reid Research survey earlier in the week showed Ardern as the most popular New Zealand leader in a century with 59.5 percent approval (up 20.8 points) compared to 4.5 percent for Bridges (down 6.1), while Labour rose 14 percentage points to 56.6 percent approval and National dropped 12.7 to stand at 30.6 percent.
The popularity of Ardern, whose Labour party currently rules in coalition with the New Zealand First and Green parties, has boosted her chances of a second term, however Muller is a relative unknown that could provide National supporters with renewed hope.
With just over 1,150 confirmed coronavirus cases and 21 deaths, New Zealand has been one of the most successful countries in fighting the virus and after applying early and strong lockdown measures on its population. EFE-EPA