English refuses to say whether he will stand for prime minister

Mr English told the media that he would talk to the caucus and his family before announcing his decision.

Deputy prime minister Bill English has paid tribute to John Key but refused to confirm if he would seek to replace him in the top job.

Mr Key announced he was to step down in a surprise announcement this lunchtime, citing family reasons. He'll be replaced via a vote at caucus next Monday.

Mr English told the media that he would talk to the caucus and his family before announcing his decision. Mr Key endorsed his finance minister if he chooses to stand. The deputy prime minister said there was a sense of sadness and disappointment in caucus and the cabinet at the prime minister's departure.

"It's a tribute to him that, in announcing his resignation, he leaves behind a cohesive team with plenty of talent and energy to take New Zealand forward," English said.

He was asked by reporters if Mr Key had health issues but responded that there was nothing more to it and that the prime minister had been direct and open. He said he didn't think the public would react badly to the announcement.

"I think by far the bigger part of his success has been dealing with the recession, it's the earthquakes, it's the delivery in the long run that's built the support he has."

Mr English also said he saw no need for an early election, with many pundits in and around the Beehive expecting an election on September 23 next year.

Mr English was National leader between October 2001 and October 2003 but failed to secure the public's backing at a general election. He was asked if he had changed in the past 15 years, to which he responded by paying tribute to MrKey, "you learn more from losing than you do from winning but for the past 10 years I've had a masterclass."

He expected the process in choosing a new leader to be relatively smooth.

"We've put a premium on stability and unity and I don't think you should expect to get the kind of brawling you see from the opposition about the selection process and caucus vote," he said, adding that Mr Key's one week of notice "gives the caucus time to decide whether it wants some long process."


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