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Airline CEO-turned-politician Luxon to lead New Zealand to the right

Christopher Luxon, Leader of the National Party arrives at his election party after winning the general election to become New Zealand’s next prime minister in Auckland

By Lucy Craymer

WELLINGTON (Reuters) -Just three years after entering politics, former businessman Christopher Luxon is set to lead New Zealand to the right as prime minister-elect, ending six years of Labour-led centre-left government.

The former Air New Zealand chief executive, Luxon became leader of the centre-right National Party at the end of 2021, boosting its popularity until winning Saturday's general election.

National won 50 seats and its preferred coalition partner, ACT New Zealand, won 11, securing a majority of one seat in the 121-seat parliament, according to provisional results from the Electoral Commission. Final results are due Nov. 3.

Luxon, who held senior roles at global consumer goods firm Unilever and delivered consistent profits running Air New Zealand from 2012 to 2019, has said he would use the skills he bought to managing businesses to improve New Zealand.

The 53-year-old has promised to curb historically high inflation and reduce government debt by cutting spending and narrowing the central bank's mandate to targeting inflation, in order to help financially stretched middle-income families.

"I want to bring the country together, I want to actually make sure that we are focussed on delivering outcomes for New Zealanders," Luxon told a press conference, dressed in an All Blacks jersey after watching the national rugby team win a dramatic World Cup quarter-final.

"I’m a person who likes to bring teams together and make sure that I get the best out of that team and use all the skills in that team, so that’s my mode."

In a country where almost half the people say they have no religion, Luxon has faced scrutiny for saying he was Christian and has had to defend stances such as personally opposing abortion. He has committed to maintaining legal abortion and supported same-sex marriage.

"Faith is deeply personal, but I am not there to act in the interests of one faith, one group, one person or one belief system. I'm there to represent all New Zealanders," Luxon told Reuters earlier this year.

A millionaire father of two with several homes across the country, Luxon is learning the Maori language and is a Taylor Swift fan, quoting her in televised debates and interviews.

Although well-travelled, he is largely untried on foreign policy. Luxon has strongly supported Ukraine in its invasion by Russia, in line with New Zealand's traditional allies. He has said there will be little change in New Zealand’s foreign policy.

(Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by William Mallard)