Bill English, New Zealand’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, will become the country’s new leader on Monday.
Ruling National Party MPs will formally vote for a replacement for John Key next week, but the outgoing prime minister’s right-hand man has the publicly declared support of at least 30 of his party’s 59 MPs.
His leading opponent, police and corrections minister Judith Collins, has pulled out of the race. Health minister Jonathan Coleman, the other contender, says he has not heard from English and the numbers are speculation. He has not decided whether to stay in the race.
English said he appreciated Collins’ support. Whether Coleman should withdraw was “a matter for Jonathan”, he said.
The choice of English’s deputy seems far less clear-cut. Justice minister Amy Adams, who was expected to stand, has ruled it out and thrown her support behind English as PM and state services minister Paula Bennett as his deputy.
Simon Bridges, the ambitious young transport minister, is the other likely contender, with support from influential backbench MPs.
English will be appointing Steven Joyce as finance minister. Joyce, a multi-millionaire who made his money in commercial radio and is the party’s election campaign strategist and general Mr Fixit, is currently economic development minister with a vast empire in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Bridges is likely to be a top contender for economic development but Adams and defence minister Gerry Brownlee could also be seeking it.
Joyce will be inheriting a healthy set of economic forecasts.
Treasury today forecast the current year to end with $473m surplus – which would have been $1b billion more if the immediate costs of the recent Kaikoura earthquakes had not been factored in.
But surpluses rise steeply in following years to $3.3b, $5.3b, $6.7b and $8…5b in 2020-21.
However, Treasury estimates the total cost of the Kaikoura earthquake to the Crown to be $2-3b while Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler today put the cost to the economy at $8b.
English became finance minister in 2008 at the start of the global financial crisis. He has opposed abortion, voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, civil unions and the decriminalisation of prostitution.
He is married to a GP, Mary; they have six children. He is an active Roman Catholic but considers his religious beliefs personal and separate from politics.