New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announces surprise resignation
FILE PHOTO - John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, takes part in a presentation, discussion and question-answer session, at the Council on Foreign Relations in Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 19, 2016. REUTERS/

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he is stepping down in a surprise announcement on Monday. Key, who has been in power since 2008 and credited with the handling of the economy in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, cited family reasons for his resignation.

The center-right National Party leader said he would support his deputy and finance minister Bill English to become the next prime minister. Key said he would remain in parliament so that his party can avoid a by-election for his seat. If English succeeds Key, most of the current government's economic policies will be continued. The National Party caucus will on December 12 to elect the new leader.

"This is the hardest decision I've ever made and I don't know what I'll do next ... There is no way I could have served out a full fourth term," Key said, citing family reasons for his departure, Key said.

"I think in reality if I served six months or a full-year, I would have inevitably had to look down the barrel of a camera and say 'I will serve a full three years'. I would therefore have mislead the public and that is not the way of operating," he added.

Key was elected as the party leader in 2006. In 2008 the party unseated Labour leader Helen Clark who was prime minister for more than nine years. The 55-year-old leader worked as a foreign exchange dealer in his early career, having worked with firms like Merrill Lynch.

Key extended support to English and showered praise on him. "For 10 years now Bill and I have worked closely as a team," said Key. "I have witnessed first-hand his leadership style, his capacity for work, his grasp of the economy, his commitment to change and most of all his decency as a husband, as a father, a colleague and as a politician.