New Zealand’s opposition party chooses Chris Luxon as leader

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s conservative opposition party chose former businessman and political novice Christopher Luxon as its new leader on Tuesday, as it tries to rebuild from a huge election loss last year and continued infighting.

Luxon is a close friend of former Prime Minister John Key and many in the National Party hope he will bring a similar relaxed and confident style as he tries to gain ground on popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. But some worry his conservative Christian values are out of step with everyday New Zealanders.

Before entering politics for the first time at last year’s election, Luxon spent more than six years as chief executive of national carrier Air New Zealand. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working at Unilever, where he became chief executive of the company’s Canadian business.

“I came to politics because I know how to solve problems and get things done,” Luxon said. “I have built a career out of reversing the fortunes of under-performing companies and I’ll bring that real-world experience to this role.”

He said his faith helps ground him, but he also sees a clear line between religion and politics.

Luxon, 51, is the fifth person to lead the National Party since Ardern came to power four years ago. The party suffered an election loss of historic proportions last year as Ardern’s coronavirus response proved immensely popular.

Luxon said the National Party is back. “We are the reset,” he said. “Today we are drawing a line under the events of the last four years, and we are putting them behind us.”

The popularity of Ardern and her liberal Labour Party has slipped somewhat in opinion polls since the last election, but former National Party leader Judith Collins was unable to capitalize, with most of the gains going to the libertarian ACT Party. Collins was ousted last week by her caucus.

Simon Bridges, another former National Party leader, withdrew from the leadership contest earlier on Tuesday, clearing the way for an uncontested win by Luxon. The party chose 40-year-old Nicola Willis as Luxon’s deputy. Before becoming a lawmaker in 2018, Willis was a senior manager at New Zealand’s largest company, the dairy cooperative Fonterra.

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