Judith Collins has been elected as New Zealand’s National Party leader and will face off against Jacinda Ardern’s popular Government in an election due in two months.
- Ms Collins has held the police and corrections portfolios during her 18 years in parliament
- She is seen as member of the National Party right wing
- Polling shows Jacinda Ardern is on track to win majority government
The long-serving politician is taking over from Todd Muller, who in a surprise move on Tuesday stepped down as party leader citing health reasons.
Mr Muller, a 67-year-old former business executive, had led the party for only 53 days, toppling previous leader Simon Bridges in a leadership coup that came amid stagnant polling numbers for their party.
Ms Collins was chosen to take over the leadership in a hastily arranged meeting of the party’s parliamentary caucus in Wellington on Tuesday evening.
She is Nationals’ fourth leader in three years and its second female leader.
Collins seen as conservative politician
Ms Collins is understood to have won a contested bid for the party’s leadership, but details of the vote have not been released.
After first being elected to Parliament in 2002, Ms Collins served under prime ministers John Key and Bill English.
She has held police and corrections portfolios and is seen to represent the right wing of the National Party, having previously promoted strong law and order policies.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is on track to win a majority government.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)
Ms Collins now faces the task of trying to rally support for the Nationals ahead of the September 19 elections, at which they will try to unseat the governing Labour Party of popular Prime Minister Ms Ardern.
Recent polls show Labour has sufficient support to form a majority government, a first since New Zealand adopted a system of proportional representation in 1996.
All previous governments since that time have been coalitions and Labour currently governs with the support of the Green Party and right-of-centre New Zealand First.
National Party faces challenge beating Ardern
The National Party has been embroiled in scandal for the past week following revelations a junior politician leaked private health details of New Zealand coronavirus patients to news media.
The information was provided by a former party president who received it confidentially in her capacity as acting chief executive of the Auckland rescue helicopter organisation.
Mr Muller was a low-profile member of the party when he was chosen to lead after the coup that toppled Mr Bridges, whose lack of popularity with voters had begun to worry party operatives as the election approached.
The Nationals have struggled to dent the popularity of Ms Ardern, whose Government has high approval ratings for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Zealand has gone 73 days without a case of community transmission and has suffered only 22 deaths.
Life has largely returned to normal in the country, with schools, bars and restaurants all open and stadiums packed at sports events.