Australia

New Zealand opposition leader quits after seven weeks in job and two months out from election

New Zealand's opposition leader Todd Muller has abruptly resigned. Source: AP

New Zealand's National Party leader Todd Muller says he is "not the best person" to lead the party.

New Zealand's opposition leader Todd Muller quit Tuesday after just seven weeks in the role, leaving his party in disarray with an election against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looming in two months.

Mr Muller made the surprise announcement in a brief early-morning statement, saying it had "become clear to me that I am not the best person to be leader of the opposition... at this critical time".

"The role has taken a heavy toll on me personally, and on my family, and this has become untenable from a health perspective," he said.

"For that reason I will be stepping down as leader effective immediately."

Todd Muller with his deputy Nikki Kaye after deposing Simon Bridges as leader of the National Party in May.
Todd Muller with his deputy Nikki Kaye after deposing Simon Bridges as leader of the National Party in May.
AP

Mr Muller ousted his predecessor Simon Bridges as leader of the centre-right National Party on 22 May amid polls showing record backing for Ms Ardern ahead of the 19 September election.

The 51-year-old clawed back some support for National, taking it to 38 percent against 50 for Ms Ardern's Labour, but still trailed 13 percent to 54 in the preferred prime minister rating.

Ms Ardern has won praise for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with New Zealand containing the virus and experiencing just 22 deaths in a population of five million.

The youthful leader had faced criticism from Mr Muller after personal details of 18 active COVID-19 cases were sent to the media, but the attack backfired when it emerged last week that the leak came from a member of his own party.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has won praise for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
AAP

Mr Muller said he would "take some time out of the spotlight" with family and intended to remain in parliament.

His deputy Nikki Kaye is seen as a possible successor, along with the more conservative Judith Collins.

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