WELLINGTON – John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand and leader of the National party, has resigned in a decision that has taken the country by surprise.

Key held a media conference in Wellington at 12.45pm local time, after informing the cabinet of his decision. His resignation would be effective from December 12.

This felt like the right time to go, Key told reporters. ‘Sometimes you’ve got to make hard decisions to make right decisions,’ he said adding it was an opportunity to refresh the National party’s leadership of the country and hopefully clinch a fourth term.

I feel like I’m going out on top, Key said, pointing to spending more time with his wife Bronagh and children Stephanie and Max.

‘I think one of the reasons governments fail at that fourth-term hurdle is leaders don’t want to leave, everyone says ‘I’ve seen this before’. This is the chance to demonstrate newness about us.’

Key said he would vote for his deputy prime minister, Bill English, if he put his name forward.

Key is among the most popular leaders of New Zealand. He was elected to the office in 2008 and shot to fame and recognition as a statesman after the global economic crunch.