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New Zealand opposition picks former airline boss as new leader

11/29/2021 | 10:46pm

WELLINGTON, Nov 30 (Reuters) - New Zealand's main opposition National Party on Tuesday selected a former Air New Zealand chief executive as its new leader to face Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the next election in 2023.

Christopher Luxon, who helmed Air New Zealand for seven years until September 2019, had long been seen as the likely next leader of the conservative National party, which faced its worst defeat in the 2020 election.

He becomes the party's fifth leader in just four years after Judith Collins, who headed the National's campaign in 2020, was dumped last week.

Luxon's elevation will put pressure on Ardern, whose popularity has taken a hit in recent weeks due to a perceived failure in quickly vaccinating the population and growing anger over her government's tough pandemic curbs and border closures.

Ardern has enjoyed enormous personal support but a recent 1News Colmar Brunton poll showed her rating as preferred prime minister had fallen 5 points from September to 39%.

"We believe New Zealanders need a government of action – not rhetoric," Luxon said in a statement.

"I came to politics because I know how to solve problems and get things done," he said.

The 51-year-old businessman held senior roles at global consumer goods firm Unilever before moving to Air New Zealand and leading the airline between 2012 and 2019, during which time it produced consistent profits.

He was tapped by Ardern in 2018 to lead an advisory council focused on improving business confidence and to help with reforming a slowing economy.

He was elected to Parliament for the Botany electorate in the last election.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)

© Reuters 2022
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