September 7, 2018 / 3:55 AM / 19 days ago

Challenges grow for New Zealand PM Ardern as communications minister resigns

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accepted the resignation of her communications minister on Friday only hours after saying her job was safe, capping off a tough month for the popular premier since her return from maternity leave.

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reacts during a press conference in Berlin, Germany, April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

The resignation of Clare Curran, the standing down of another minister last month while a staffing matter was investigated, and a sharp fall in business confidence have raised questions about the effectiveness of the center-left coalition government.

Ardern said in an emailed statement Curran had contacted her on Thursday night to offer her resignation for failing to declare a meeting with a candidate for a top government job.

“I agree with her assessment that resigning is the best course of action for the government and for her,” Ardern said.

Ardern said in a radio interview earlier on Friday Curran’s job was safe but later told reporters that comment was in response to a question about whether she had asked Curran to resign, which she said she had not. She then defended her government’s stability.

“Absolutely. No question,” she said.

“Ultimately what we have here is an error of judgment from a politician ... These things do happen in office,” Ardern said.

Curran had already stepped down as open government and digital services minister on Aug. 24 for failing to properly declare a meeting with a candidate for the job of the government’s chief technology officer. She had retained her more junior communications and broadcasting portfolio.

Curran was also questioned by opposition MPs this week over whether she had used her personal email account for government business.

“I have come to the conclusion the current heat being placed on me is unlikely to go away. This pressure has become intolerable. For the benefit of the government, and my personal well-being, I believe that resignation is the best course of action,” Curran said in an emailed statement on Friday.

Curran will continue to represent Ardern’s Labour Party in parliament, so the government’s number of seats is not affected. She is the first minister to resign since the Ardern’s coalition took office in late 2017.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Paul Tait

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