Judith Collins, the new leader of New Zealand’s opposition National party, has given its two previous leaders senior roles on the frontbench as part of a cabinet reshuffle.
Todd Muller, whose resignation this week took the establishment by surprise, has been given the trade portfolio, while predecessor Simon Bridges now has foreign affairs and justice.
There are now two Māori MPs in the party’s top five positions: Bridges, and Dr Shane Reti, who has the health portfolio.
Amid the changes on Thursday, two senior lawmakers announced their retirements: Muller’s deputy, Nikki Kaye, and former finance spokesperson Amy Adams said they would not seek re-election.
Both said their retirements were not related to the selection of Collins as Muller’s successor. Kaye – a supporter of gay marriage and advocate for climate change policies – represents the liberal wing of the centre-right party but said she would campaign for Collins.
“I believe Judith is absolutely the right leader for the party at this time and I will be supporting Judith and the party to win this election,” Kaye said.
Adams had responsibility for the party’s Covid-19 recovery portfolio under Muller but its removal with his departure led her to reaffirm her departure.
“With Todd Muller’s decision to resign the leadership the most important issue for our party was to get a strong and effective leadership team in place without delay and I am proud at the way in which the caucus managed this,” she said.
The party’s week of turmoil began on Tuesday with Muller’s shock resignation. The 67-year-old former businessman blindsided colleagues when he announced his resignation in an early-morning statement, citing health issues.
Muller had taken over the leadership 53 days earlier in a move prompted by the party’s stagnant polling, but his tenure was short and troubled. Soon after his elevation he was photographed in his office among memorabilia which included a Make America Great Again cap and was accused of a dog-whistle to his party’s right-wing supporters. He then named a shadow cabinet criticised for its lack of diversity; the highest-ranked person of color was 17th.
Muller’s greatest challenge came when a lawmaker leaked private health details of New Zealand Covid-19 patients to the media. It wasn’t published and the lawmaker resigned, but Muller struggled to distance himself from the scandal.
National has also struggled against the popularity of the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and the broad approval of her government’s handling of the pandemic. New Zealand has gone weeks without a community-spread infection, nearly all lockdown restrictions have been lifted and public life has largely returned to normal.
National’s pitch to voters has been that it has a more competent team than Ardern’s. But the departures of several high-profile MPs have begun denting that assertion.