New Zealand opposition leader Collins ousted by caucus

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – A year after suffering a huge electoral loss, New Zealand Conservative opposition leader Judith Collins was ousted by her caucus on Thursday.

Collins was in the role for a tumultuous 16 months. She never did well in the polls as leader of the National Party, even after Liberal Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s popularity began to wane somewhat in recent months as a coronavirus outbreak took hold in Auckland.

Rumors of a possible move against Collins had been circulating for weeks. But she ended up taking the first step on Wednesday night by stripping former leader and potential rival Simon Bridges of his portfolios.

Collins said she made the decision because she first found out that Bridges made inappropriate comments to coworker Jacqui Dean about five years ago at a reception.

But other National Party lawmakers were not impressed with Collins’ decision, pointing out that Bridges apologized at the time.

The new leader of the National Party will be chosen next week. Possible candidates include Bridges, former Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon, and former police officer Mark Mitchell. Collins plans to stay in Parliament as a lawmaker representing the Auckland district of Papakura.

Collins said it took stamina and determination to take on the leadership during “the worst of times.”

“I knew when a coworker told me about her gross misconduct allegation against a senior coworker, that I would likely lose leadership by taking the matter so seriously,” Collins wrote on Twitter. “If I hadn’t done it, then I felt I wouldn’t deserve the part.”

Dean said Bridges apologized at the time, but the incident “continued to worry me.”

Ardern won a second term last year in a landslide of historic proportions. His Labor Party’s popularity has since plummeted, but most of the gains have gone to the libertarian ACT party, while Collins and the National Party have continued to languish in opinion polls.

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