New Zealand Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English announce that he is considering running for the leadership of the ruling National Party. Photo: Reuters/Charlotte Greenfield

At least three senior ministers joined the race to replace New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday, a day after Key stunned the nation by resigning to spend more time with his family, with his deputy Bill English seen as the front-runner.

English, the finance minister and deputy leader of the ruling center-right National Party, announced his candidacy, as did Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Police Minister Judith Collins. Other contenders may yet still emerge before the party holds a caucus meeting on Monday to vote for a new leader.

English, who has been endorsed by Key, is seen as best-placed to win but some analysts felt Coleman stood a chance.

“It’s Bill English’s to lose in the sense that there’s such a strong endorsement and essentially direction from Key that it’s very difficult for the caucus to outright repudiate the prime minister’s preference,” said Jon Johansson, a political scientist at Wellington’s Victoria University.

Several Cabinet members, including Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse and Primary Industry Minister Nathan Guy, have declared their support for English.

Other potential candidates include senior Cabinet minister Steven Joyce, fellow Cabinet minister Paula Bennett and Energy Minister Simon Bridges.

National elections are not expected until late 2017.

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