WELLINGTON • New Zealand’s main opposition party, trailing in the opinion polls ahead of September’s election, yesterday elected Ms Judith Collins as leader after the surprise resignation of Mr Todd Muller, who held the job for less than two months.
Ms Collins, 61, was chosen by the party’s caucus in an evening vote.
Nicknamed “Crusher” because of her reputation as a hard-fighting politician, she said she hopes her National Party will “collectively crush the government” at the election, Stuff.co.nz reported.
Ms Collins will face Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the September vote, the second time that women have led the country’s two main parties into an election.
Mr Muller, like his predecessor Simon Bridges, struggled to turn the tide against Ms Ardern, who has won plaudits at home and abroad for her handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and her response to the 2019 Christchurch massacre.
Ms Collins has been in Parliament since 2002 and was a minister under the John Key-Bill English government, variously overseeing portfolios including revenue, energy, police and justice.
Mr Muller cited the “heavy toll” the job had taken on him and his family, though his tenure included a series of missteps, including a leak concerning Covid-19 patients.
“It has become clear to me that I am not the best person to be leader of the opposition and leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time,” he said in a statement in Wellington yesterday. “The role has taken a heavy toll on me personally, and on my family, and this has become untenable from a health perspective.”
Mr Muller took over National’s leadership on May 22, after polls showing a slump in support under his predecessor led to Mr Bridges’ ousting by the party’s Members of Parliament.
In a One News/Colmar Brunton poll published on June 25, Ms Ardern’s Labour Party had 50 per cent support to National’s 38 per cent – signalling the challenge Mr Muller faced ahead of the Sept 19 election. Mr Muller scored 13 per cent as preferred prime minister to Ms Ardern’s 43 per cent.
Mr Muller was under pressure after he took over the reins. His reshuffled shadow Cabinet drew criticism for lacking ethnic diversity and he was called out by some media for not having a clear economic plan.