New Zealand’s socially conservative finance chief Bill English has been sworn in as the country’s new prime minister.
This followed last week’s shock resignation of his popular predecessor, John Key.
The centre-right National Party caucus unanimously backed English at a meeting on Monday morning. A few hours later, he travelled to Government House in Wellington to officially take over.
State Services Minister Paula Bennett was named as deputy leader.
54-year-old English said he was “excited and humbled” to take the top job after eight years as Key’s deputy and finance minister.
– Social conservative –
English said New Zealand’s prosperity meant the country did not have the pool of disaffected voters responsible for Brexit and US President-elect Donald Trump’s victory.
And he said a priority for his government was ensuring the most needy were given opportunities.
“We have a strong economy, almost unique in the developed world, and most New Zealanders would expect to be able to share in that,” he said.
A committed Catholic with six children, English is regarded as far more socially conservative than Key.
He opposed the 2013 legalisation of same-sex marriage and speaking out against abortion and voluntary euthanasia.
“It doesn’t define me but it is an important influence,” he said when asked about his faith Monday. He added that he now supported gay marriage after seeing its positive impact.
Key congratulates English
Key, who resigned for family reasons after eight years as prime minister and 10 as party leader, said he was looking forward to becoming an anonymous backbencher.
He congratulated English and Bennett, saying he did not expect the government’s direction to change under the new team.
“I don’t think it will be a radically different agenda under Bill English,” he told reporters.
“It gives a sense of newness (to the government) that the public probably do want.”
Opposition Labour Party leader Andrew Little said English’s leadership meant more of the same for voters.
“New Zealand has moved on, but Bill English hasn’t,” he said. “The right-wing rump of National under English is now reasserting itself.”
Bennett, 47, revealed she had struggled as a teenage single mother and said the fact that she was given a second chance and had become deputy prime minister was “a credit to New Zealand”.
“There was a moment when I was a 17-year-old Maori solo mum in Taupo, I’d left school with no qualifications, I didn’t have a job and it looked pretty bleak,” she said.