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New Zealand ruling party meeting to consider new leader
[WELLINGTON] New Zealand's ruling centre-right National Party is considering a new leader at a meeting on Tuesday, a day after Prime Minister John Key shocked the country with his abrupt resignation.
Finance Minister Bill English is viewed by both lawmakers and political analysts as the front-runner for the top job, but others have not ruled themselves out, leaving the door open for a potential race.
"Wait and see," Mr English told reporters who questioned whether he planned to stand as a candidate as he entered the parliament building in Wellington ahead of the Caucus meeting.
English, a former Treasury Department analyst who is also deputy leader of the party, said on Monday that he would talk with both his family and the 59-member caucus before he decided whether to run.
Other potential candidates include senior cabinet minister Steven Joyce, fellow cabinet minister Paula Bennett, police minister Judith Collins and health minister Jonathan Coleman.
Ms Collins told reporters "we'll see how things go in caucus today."
Mr Coleman said he had been "taking some soundings, not doing numbers, but seeing what the appetite of the caucus for a contest is."
A recent UMR survey of voters pegged English as the most favoured replacement for Mr Key on 21 per cent, followed by Joyce on 16 per cent, Ms Bennett on 11 per cent and Ms Collins on 6 per cent. Mr Coleman was not ranked in the survey, which was conducted in early October, before Mr Key's resignation.
Mr Key, who has been New Zealand's leader since 2008, is backing Mr English to be the formal candidate ahead of a Caucus meeting to vote on Dec 12.
The party is part-way through a third, three-year term that has been marked by political stability and economic reform.
Praised for his stewardship of New Zealand's US$170 billion economy in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and two devastating earthquakes in Christchurch, he remains one of the world's most popular leaders.
Moody's Investors Services said it did not expect to change New Zealand's Aaa credit rating as a result of Mr Key's resignation, adding it expected the country's "very strong institutions to lead to a smooth tradition and policy continuity". National elections are not expected until late 2017.