Labour will feel Helen Clark's loss, but is proud of her achievement in getting the thumbs up from the United Nations Secretary-General for a top job, MP Darren Hughes says.
The announcement that the former prime minister had been nominated by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the role as administrator of the United Nations Development Programme was made in New York this morning by UN spokeswoman Michele Montas.
This morning's confirmation follows days of heated speculation that Miss Clark would secure the role - which is the third-highest position in the UN hierarchy.
The nomination will now go to the UN General Assembly for confirmation.
"Helen Clark is greatly honoured by the Secretary-General's nomination for the role of Adminstrator of the United Nations Development Programme," a spokesman for Miss Clark said.
"As the General Assembly has yet to meet on the matter, she will not be making any further comment at this time."
Mr Hughes spoke to media in the absence of Labour leader Phil Goff, who is overseas.
Mr Hughes said the General Assembly involved many countries and members and that Miss Clark was a ''stickler'' for processes, which is why she was not commenting on the nomination immediately.
''But the fact that she has cleared the biggest hurdle, which is the nomination by the Secretary-General, is a fantastic achievement,'' he said.
'The Labour Party is proud of her, the people of her electorate will be, and I think the people of New Zealand will be too.
''She is a loss from the caucus, and that's the mix of emotions you feel, but we're excited for her because of what it means for her - and for the world - that she can make some really positive change at the UNDP.''
A statement from the UN said Miss Clark was selected for her outstanding qualifications and numerous accomplishments in her long career.
She had the needed leadership and international recognition that would allow her as the new administrator to build on the role.
Ms Montas said Miss Clark would use her "well-honed consensus-building skills" in her new role.
Prime Minister John Key says he was delighted to hear of his predecessor's successful application.
"This will be the highest diplomatic position held by a New Zealander, and I think we can all take pride in her significant achievement," he said.
Mr Key, who has been publicly expressing confidence in Miss Clark's ability to carry out such a role, said she was a highly regarded New Zealander who had international credibility.
"Her leadership experience will help ensure she can mobilise resources and represent the UNDP effectively."
Miss Clark stood down as Labour leader on the night of the party's election defeat last November.
Her new role is considered to be the most heavyweight international position ever held by a New Zealander - more significant even than Mike Moore's time as head of the World Trade Organisation.
It is the third-highest position in the UN, behind the secretary-general and his deputy.
The UNDP is an aid agency with a multi-billion dollar budget operating in 166 countries.
Miss Clark's successor as Labour leader, Phil Goff, congratulated her on the nomination, which will now go to the UN General Assembly for endorsement.
"Helen will do a great job. She has the leadership and managerial skills, the integrity and competency and international networks to meet the considerable demands of the job.
"New Zealanders can be proud that a representative of our country is one step away from securing the third highest position at the United Nations."
He said Miss Clark's achievements in New Zealand politics were "considerable" - "but her new role will take her on to a different stage."
"While saddened to see her leave after more than 27 years as a Member of Parliament, the Labour caucus is very proud to see Helen embark on a new career at the United Nations," Mr Goff said.
"The UNDP's goals fit perfectly with the values that Helen has promoted throughout her political career. Helen's drive to help all people build a better life will now be utilised on a global scale."
Congratulatory messages also came from the Green Party and Maori Party, with co-leader Tariana Turia saying Miss Clark would be remembered as one of the country's greatest prime ministers.
''She has an enormous capacity for work and commitment to all she undertakes. She is a strong leader and has integrity, and I know the developing countries will be strengthened by her leadership,'' she said.
Mike Moore, the last New Zealander to hold a high-profile international position when he headed the World Trade Organisation, said the UNDP had problems in many countries because of the "appalling politicians" running them.
"There are bad guys who take money. . . I've dealt with a lot of these villains and I think Helen will deal to some of them," he said on One News.
For Miss Clark it will be the culmination of a political career that began in 1981 when she was elected MP for Mt Albert, the seat she still holds.
She was always interested in foreign affairs and one of her first tasks in Parliament was running the committee which drafted the anti-nuclear legislation.
After becoming prime minister in 1999 she made many official overseas trips, meeting world leaders and gaining a reputation for her grasp of international affairs.
The UNDP was established in 1965 and among its aims are reducing poverty, halting the spread of HIV/Aids, improving environmental protection and raising the standards of governance internationally.
- with NZPA
- © Fairfax NZ News
Can the ACT Party survive?Related story: ACT life support still on