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New Zealand center-right party picks new prime minister after surprise resignation

Finance Minister Bill English has been chosen to succeed departing Prime Minister John Key. English takes over at a time of economic prosperity for New Zealand, but he once presided over a humiliating election defeat.

A caucus of the center-right National Party confirmed Finance Minister Bill English as New Zealand's new prime minister early Monday, and he was sworn-in later in the day.

The power shift follows last week's surprise resignation of John Key, who led the country for eight years.

Key wanted English, 54, to succeed him, and he ran unopposed for the top job

Shortly after the caucus meeting ended, English announced that Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett would be his deputy prime minister.

"Bill and Paula are outstanding leaders who will provide a good mixture of experience and fresh thinking," said party president Peter Goodfellow.

"Under their leadership, New Zealanders will continue to benefit from the stable government they expect, along with a dedicated focus on delivering results for families and businesses."

Watch video 00:29

New Zealand PM resigns in shock move

English has also asked Steven Joyce, a senior cabinet minister, to shift from the ministry of economic development to take over the finance ministry.

Further cabinet changes are expected in the coming weeks, and English has also signaled a "stock-take" on policy.

"I am both excited and humbled by this opportunity," English, who comes from a conservative, Catholic family in New Zealand's south, told reporters after the meeting.

An election disaster

It was a different story 13 years ago when English presided over a disastrous election loss for the National Party against the center-left Labour Party. Now he takes the reins of a nation in good economic shape compared to much of the developed world.

English has held several ministerial posts, including education, health and finance, since he joined parliament in 1990.

As finance minister, his more notable moves included the partial privatization of several state-owned energy firms and Air New Zealand, cutting personal tax and corporate tax rates and increasing the goods and services tax.

English is a farmer with degrees in commerce and literature, and he has been in parliament since 1990. He was leader of the National Party in 2002 when it suffered its worst election defeat.

John Key announced his surprise exit from politics last Monday, citing personal reasons. He has led the Pacific nation with 4.7 million inhabitants since 2008. 

On Monday, Moody's said it expects New Zealand to remain among the fastest-growing of triple-A rated economies.

bik/kl (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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