“It has become clear to me that I am not the best person to be the Leader of the Opposition and leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time for New Zealand,” said Muller.“This role has taken a heavy toll on me personally and on my family, and it has become untenable from a health standpoint.”
Political observers across the spectrum were taken by surprise. No one expected Muller’s resignation so close to the general election scheduled for September 19.
Muller said he intended to take some time to spend with his family and “restore my energy before reconnecting with my community.”
National MP Hamish Walker resigned last week after discovering that he had disclosed classified information about active Covid-19 patients to the media.
Muller’s handling of the crisis was criticized, and his honesty was questioned after a second national MP came forward to say that he had also received the leaked information – a fact that Muller had not told reporters during questioning.
Ben Thomas, a former national government press secretary, said no one saw the resignation happening, and the pressure had clearly proven too much for Muller.
“A lot of politicians see themselves as leaders … maybe the job is a little harder than it looks once you’re there,” said Thomas in the Morning Report.
“There were discipline issues at the National … so he may have thought … that it was not worth it.
“It was not the job he thought he had signed up for. ”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “No matter which side of Parliament you sit in, politics is a tough place. I sent my best wishes to Mr. Muller and his family. ”
Key names proposed to lead the national party include veteran Judith Collins, current MP Nikki Kaye and recently ousted leader Bridges.
In late May, Muller won a secret ballot in the party hall against Bridges, a former criminal prosecutor whom polls had found deeply unpopular with the general public. The vote took less than an hour. Nikki Kaye was chosen as Muller’s assistant.
After gaining leadership, Muller described himself as a man from “the heart of New Zealand” and said that the nation needed a national government with “the experience and the management skills to do going through the worst crisis in our country since the end of the second world war ”.
Muller said he was not interested in opposition politics but would hold the government to account. While applauding their handling of the Covid-19 crisis as “impressive” and praising Ardern as “an excellent communicator”, he said that the Labor Party lacked the skills to drive New Zealand out of a economic downturn and said the party had only two or three talented MPs in its cabinet.
Muller is from the business community and has held positions with dairy giant Fonterra and Zespri, the kiwi growers’ cooperative. He comes from a family dyed in the woolen national party and was executive assistant to Jim Bolger when he was Prime Minister in the 1990s.