New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announces resignation

Reuters with CNBC
John Key, prime minister of New Zealand, speaks during a panel discussion at the APEC 2016 CEO Summit in November 2016.
Guillermo Gutierrez | Bloomberg | Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key unexpectedly announced his resignation on Monday, saying it was the "right time" to leave politics.

The PM, who has been New Zealand's leader since 2008, will relinquish his role in Dec. 12, when the ruling National Party caucus will hold a special meeting to chose a new leader. He said that if Bill English, New Zealand's deputy prime minister and finance minister, put his hat in the ring, he would support him.

"I have witnessed first-hand his leadership style, his capacity for work, his grasp of the economy, his commitment to change and most of all his decency as a husband, as a father, a colleague and as a politician," Key said of English.

Key, a former foreign exchange dealer, said he had no immediate future plans, but told reporters he would stay in parliament long enough to avoid a by-election for his seat of Helensville. Key told a press conference that it was "the right time" because he had no plans to serve a fourth term.

"I do not believe that if I was asked to commit to serving out a full fourth term I could look the public in the eye and say yes," he said in a statement released on Monday morning. "And more than anything else in my time here, I have tried to be straight and true with New Zealanders.

"Making the decision to resign has not been easy, and I have no plans as to what comes next in my professional life. But for me this feels the right time to go. It leaves the Cabinet and caucus plenty of time to settle in with a new prime minister before heading into election year with a proud record of strong economic management," he said.

Key has been praised for his stewardship of New Zealand's $170 billion economy in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and two devastating earthquakes in Christchurch.

Marie Diron, senior vice president at Moody's Investors Services, said the ratings agency expected New Zealand's "very strong institutions to lead to a smooth tradition and policy continuity."

"New Zealand's government has effectively pursued a policy of fiscal consolidation. We do not expect any material change in policy. Government debt will remain low," she said in a note. "We do not expect any impact on economic activity. GDP growth has been strong and broad based, supporting the government's objective to maintain sound public finances."

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