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Update: New Zealand prime minister announces surprise resignation

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

[SYDNEY] New Zealand Prime Minister John Key unexpectedly announced his resignation on Monday, saying it was the “right time” to leave politics after more than eight years in power.

Mr Key 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.

“There is no way I could have served out a full fourth term,” Mr Key said at his weekly press conference in Wellington, citing family reasons for his departure.

“I think in reality if I served six months or a full-year, I would have inevitably had to look down the barrel of a camera and say ‘I will serve a full three years’. I would therefore have mislead the public and that is not the way of operating.”

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Mr Key, a former foreign exchange dealer who worked at firms including Merrill Lynch, won office for the National Party in 2008, ending the nine-year rule of Labour’s Helen Clark.

He won praise with his stewardship of the NZ$240 billion (S$242.8 billion) economy in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and two devastating earthquakes around Christchurch.

Mr Key’s close partnership with Finance Minister Bill English helped steer New Zealand’s economy to become one of the fastest-growing in the world, and the government delivered a budget surplus this year.

Since becoming prime minister in 2008, the former global head of foreign exchange for Merrill Lynch & Co has also had to deal with a series of earthquakes, one of which levelled inner-city Christchurch in 2011 and killed 185 people.

“It has been an enormous privilege to be prime minister of New Zealand, and these last eight years have been an incredible experience,” Mr Key said in a statement. He said his wife Bronagh had “made a significant sacrifice during my time in politics, and now is the right time for me to take a step back in my career and spend more time at home.”

The country’s benchmark stock index slipped 0.3 per cent, while the kiwi lost 0.6 per cent to 70.97 US cents.

The National Party caucus will hold a meeting on December 12 to decide the new party leader and prime minister.

“It needs a refresh and we are starting that refresh today,” Mr Key said.

Mr Key said he would vote for his deputy and finance minister Mr English to take over.