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English poised to be New Zealand leader as rivals quit race

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Bill English is poised to become New Zealand's next prime minister after both of his rivals for the leadership pulled out of the race to replace John Key.

[WELLINGTON] Bill English is poised to become New Zealand's next prime minister after both of his rivals for the leadership pulled out of the race to replace John Key.

"I want to congratulate the next prime minister of New Zealand, Bill English," Health Minister Jonathan Coleman told reporters after he and the other challenger, Police Minister Judith Collins, withdrew from the contest Thursday.

Mr English, the 54-year-old finance minister and Mr Key's preferred successor, said he won't become prime minister until the ruling National Party caucus formally endorses him at a meeting on Dec 12. Today's developments nevertheless bring a quick end to a leadership race sparked by Mr Key's shock resignation Monday, less than a year out from a general election.

Mr English, a father of six and a former farmer, welcomed the fact that Collins and Coleman had initially put themselves forward.

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"It's going to allow us as a government to reset, look forward and continue to provide New Zealand with good government after John Key," he said. "The discussions we've had over the last two or three days have been constructive and helpful." Mr English will have a strong economic platform to take into the 2017 election campaign. Earlier Thursday, he unveiled a half-year budget update that forecast rising surpluses and a stronger economy than previously expected.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce will replace him as finance minister, Mr English said.

Mr English is a less charismatic politician than Mr Key but seen as a safe pair of hands. He is the architect of much of the economic reform that Mr Key's government has overseen since being elected in 2008. He entered parliament in 1990 and has been Mr Key's deputy since 2006.

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