New Zealand's new leader sets September date for election

FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, file photo, New Zealand's Prime Minister Bill English addresses the media during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as part of a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany. English announced Wednesday the country will hold its national election on Sept. 23 in what will become a test of his popularity following the surprise resignation of former leader John Key. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand's recently appointed Prime Minister Bill English announced Wednesday that the country will hold a national election in September in what will be a test of his popularity following the surprise resignation of former leader John Key.

English said his conservative National Party will campaign on its strong record with the economy. He said that budget surpluses would allow the government to spend more on infrastructure as well as pay down debt and enact tax cuts.

"We're in a fantastic position of having an economy generating, in the last 12 months, well over 100,000 jobs," English said.

He said few countries in the developed world were enjoying the same level of economic success.

Figures released Wednesday showed the job participation rate was at an all-time high but that unemployment had risen slightly to just over 5 percent, as more people looked for work.

Opposition leader Andrew Little said the country was suffering from a housing crisis that needs fixing and that he would also improve health care and education.

"Bring it on," Little said in a statement. "We're ready and raring to go so we can change the government and build a better New Zealand."

Little's Labour Party has formed an opposition alliance with the liberal Green Party.

Under New Zealand law, the prime minister gets to choose the date of the national election, which is held every three years. English said the vote would be held on Sept. 23.

Politicians won't begin intense campaigning for the election until August when parliament finishes. The campaign will last just five weeks.

Former prime minister Key had been expected to contest his fourth election after leading his party to victory three times but he resigned in December, saying he wanted to go out on top and spend more time with his family.

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