Poll ousts veteran PM in New Zealand

NEW Zealand yesterday elected its first conservative government in almost a decade, ending the rule of one of the world's longest-serving elected women.

John Key, a 47-year-old multi-millionaire and former foreign currency trader, swept easily to power, ousting Prime Minister Helen Clark's Labour Party as leader of the country of 4.1 million people.

"Today, New Zealand has spoken – in their hundreds of thousands, they have voted for change," said the leader of the National Party in his victory speech, borrowing a slogan from US President-elect Barack Obama.

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He made another reference to Obama, saying that unlike the American there would be no new dog for his children after the election.

The worldwide financial crisis loomed large during the campaign, and Key named it as the most serious challenge facing the country.

"The state of the global economy and the global financial crisis means the road ahead may well be a rocky one," he said.

"Now, more than ever, New Zealand needs to be on top of his game. Tomorrow, the hard work begins."

Clark, who was seeking a historic fourth term, accepted responsibility for a crushing loss by quitting as Labour Party leader. She will stay in parliament but out of the limelight.

"There's always a certain time-for-a-change factor and that took us out with the tide," Clark said.

She told supporters earlier that "tonight was not our night.

So, with that it's over and out from me.

"Thank you New Zealand for the privilege of having been your prime minister for the last nine years, Kia ora Tatou," she said, reciting a Maori farewell.