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Challenger Todd Muller defeated the incumbent and is now leader of the New Zealand Opposition after a National caucus vote at Parliament.
Todd Muller has ousted Simon Bridges as National Party leader and has just four months to peg back a soaring Labour Party to try to win the general election.
The Bay of Plenty MP's successful challenge became obvious just after 1pm, and Muller and the new deputy leader Nikki Kaye are expected to address the press gallery shortly.
In a media statement confirming the victory, Muller sought to quickly repair the divisions within the caucus exposed by the leadership coup.
“There is no Team Todd, there is no Team Nikki, or anyone else – there is only Team National,” Muller said.
New Zealand needed a National government with the experience and management skills to get the country through its worst crisis since World War II, he said.
“National has always been a coalition of city and country, business and community, conservatives and liberals – National is the party for all New Zealanders...
“My focus as leader is our country’s economic recovery and the strengthening of every community throughout New Zealand.”
News of the leadership change had leaked directly from the National caucus room about 12.50pm, first to Newshub's Tova O'Brien.
Muller and Bridges had kept low profiles as they prepared to make their cases to the party's 55 MPs, most of whom were also giving little away as they jetted in from around the country.
The leadership vote started at midday, with both candidates expected to deliver brief remarks before a secret ballot. A vote for the deputy leadership was to follow, with Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye aligned with Muller against Bridges' deputy Paula Bennett.
Arriving at Parliament with his wife Michelle, Muller had little to say but noted the vote was "a momentous day for the National Party".
The Bay of Plenty MP's camp expressed confidence they had the numbers to oust Bridges, although there were suggestions a surprise candidate could add some complexity to either the leadership or deputy leadership race.
Outgoing North Shore MP Maggie Barry was one of very few MPs to publicly state her support for Muller and Kaye, saying they were the right people to lead the party forward.
Rodney MP Mark Mitchell, rumoured as a potential leadership candidate himself, would not disclose his own voting preferences but said there was a sense of anticipation about the final outcome.
“Everyone just wants to get into the caucus room now and get it resolved and get it settled.”
The party's polling results this week were "not good", but he was confident National could fight back from that.
“In the last eight or nine weeks the Government have really had the megaphone, and of course as you've seen everyone in government at time of crisis usually gets a bump.”
Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe said there had been “a few phone calls” flying around in the run-up to the vote, but it would come down to how each candidate made their case in the room.
"The good thing is that we have two very capable people and I'd be happy to serve for either of those."
Te Atatu-based list MP Alfred Ngaro said he had made his mind up but would not share it publicly, but had some harsh words for those behind the leadership spill.
“I think that the whole process was dishonourable and disrespectful to who we are, so here we are back again having to deal with the business.”
Asked about the party's poll results, he said: "Politics is a contact sport eh, if you don't want to tackle go and play petanque."
But Ngaro believed Bridges had been holding the Government to account and doing what the public expected.
Previous leadership candidate Judith Collins said she would stand behind whoever won the race, but said she was "just the humble MP for Papakura" rather than a kingmaker.
“I always support the leader of the National Party, whoever that will be.”
Collins said she had chosen not to run as the party needed a “very clean vote” as it was only months out from the election.
National's finance spokesman and Bridges backer Paul Goldsmith said the poll results were not good for National, but it needed to focus on the road ahead to Election Day.
“I've always been a supporter of Simon. The critical thing is that we get back to concentrating on the things that matter to New Zealanders...nobody wants to see polls like that and we want to do better.”
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said the party's polling was “not ideal”, but not a surprise given the wider picture.
“The media has been wall to wall Covid-19 coverage. We've basically supported the Government in the measures they've taken during the lockdown so I'm not surprised, but I'm not dismayed about it either,” said Dean.
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