Bill English to be New Zealand’s next PM after challengers drop out

John Keys chosen successor must still face party vote on Monday, but with support of most National MPs, transition looks likely to be a formality

Bill English looks certain to be New Zealands next prime minister.

The deputy leader of the Nationals has secured the public support of 30 of the partys MPs on Thursday a majority and, following the withdrawal of two challengers, stands unopposed for the leadership.

English had received the backing of John Key, the prime minister since 2008, who announced his resignation on Monday. English had served as Keys finance minister in three terms of government.

Jonathan Coleman, the health minister, and Judith Collins, the police minister, had also expressed interest in the leadership. But Collins pulled out of the race on Thursday afternoon and told her supporters to back English.

As far as Im concerned, he has won, Collins told reporters in Wellington. I would like to say to my supporters that we should get in behind him and support Bill as the leader.

Coleman followed suit after the 30 MPs needed to appoint the new leader had publicly expressed support for English.

Coleman said he had congratulated the next prime minister of New Zealand when he told English he was removing himself from contention.

The decision was to be made at a meeting of the National caucus on Monday next week, which now looks to be only a formality.

English told reporters at the press gallery in Wellington that he was sorting out his leadership team, and confirmation of the new leadership would come on Monday, when the caucus would be given an opportunity to discuss the leadership.

It doesnt look like therell be any contestants, he said with a smile, adding: This has all happened pretty fast. Its really only been three days since John Key stepped down. I havent really had any time to reflect on it, to be honest.

English said he had yet to fully grasp the reality of leadership, but said Key was a unique politician and the transition would inevitably lead to changes in the National party and its governance.

On Thursday, David Farrar, a political commentator with long-time affiliations to National, noted on Twitter that English had secured the majority .

Bill English has secured the support of the 30 National MPs needed to take over from John Key. Photograph: Twitter

English had earlier said that Steven Joyce, the minister for economic development, would be New Zealands new finance minister. If I become the leader that will be the case, English said. I have worked with Steven for the last eight years. He has got a fantastic set of skills.

But questions over who will serve as Englishs deputy persist, with the caucus split over Simon Bridges, the transport minister, and Paula Bennett, the state services minister.

English told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday that he sought the prime ministership to build on the opportunities New Zealand has earned under Keys leadership.

He said the government needed to reinforce investment in New Zealands growing population.

Weve got ourselves into a positive situation where weve just got a lot more choices, partly because of the governments books are now in surplus and partly because weve just got this economy that keeps growing in a way that I think has exceeded general expectations.

Keys resignation came as a shock to both the New Zealand public and the National party on Monday.

Most of the caucus found out only shortly before his announcement, though Key had confided in English in September that he was considering resigning.

Key said it felt like the right time to go when he could not guarantee voters that he would be able to see out a fourth term.

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