The National Party, Next Zealand’s largest opposition party, chose a former chief executive of the national airline as its new leader on Tuesday, to challenge Labor Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the next election, which is scheduled for 2023.
Christopher Luxon, who led Air New Zealand for seven years until September 2019, was raised to the top role barely a year after joining parliament, following a leadership crisis at the National Party that saw four leaders removed in less than two years.
He replaces Judith Collins, who led the National Party’s campaign in its worst-ever election defeat in 2020.
“Today, we are drawing a line under the events of the previous four years and putting them behind us,” Luxon said in his acceptance speech.
Luxon’s promotion will put pressure on Ardern, whose popularity has dipped in recent weeks due to a perceived failure to vaccinate the population promptly and mounting discontent over her government’s strong pandemic limits and border closures.
Ardern has had a lot of personal support, but according to a recent 1News Colmar Brunton survey, her rating as preferred prime minister has dropped 5 points since September, to 39 percent.
National has been in turmoil since losing power to Ardern in 2017, besieged by infighting, leadership changes and scandals.
Luxon, 51, 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 elected to Parliament for the Botany electorate only in the 2020 election.
“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.
A protege of former Prime Minister John Key, Luxon defended his Christian faith in his maiden press conference saying his faith had been “misrepresented and portrayed very negatively”.
“I want to be very clear, we have separation between politics and faith,” he told reporters.
Luxon has said he does not support euthanasia in a referendum or abortion reform.