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Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 13:57 GMT
Profile of Helen Clark
Clarke Helen Clark portrays herself as a caring, modern social democrat

Labour party leader Helen Clark could not be more different from the woman she looks set to replace as New Zealand's prime minister.

While Jenny Shipley is described as forthright, articulate and even overbearing and patronising, Helen Clark has been accused by critics of being dry to the point of combustibility.

But there are similarities as well. She, too, assumed her party's leadership through a backroom struggle.

She is a former political scientist who figured prominently in the Labour administration of the mid-1980s which ushered in free-market economics to New Zealand.

Break with the past

At that time, her critics branded her a Chardonnay socialist - a reference to the urban-based group that took Labour away from its working class traditions.

Ms Clarke now disowns large parts of those times, portraying herself as a caring, modern social democrat.

Her public performances are strong, but she often still seems uncomfortable and artificial, correspondents say.

The 49-year-old is seen as an intellectual with an excellent grasp of economics but not a natural leader.

Protesting in the 1960s

Born into a wealthy farming family, Ms Clark is a child of the 1960s.

As a teenager she rebelled against her parents' conservative views, protesting against the Vietnam War and campaigning against foreign military bases in New Zealand.

She entered parliament in 1981, at a time when Labour was committed to free-market policies, a line she was not willing to tread.

"If the market is left to sort matters out, social injustice will be heightened and suffering in the community will grow with the neglect the market fosters," she said in her maiden parliamentary speech.

These beliefs kept her on the backbenches for the next six years.

The coup

Infighting within the Labour Party and forced resignations opened new alleys for her towards the end of the 1980s.

In 1989, she became New Zealand's first woman deputy premier - only to find herself out of government a year later when Labour lost the election.

After helping to rebuild her battered party, she initiated her own coup, toppling Mike Moore as leader when Labour narrowly lost the 1993 election as well.

In recent years, Helen Clark has worked hard on her image and presentation - not totally successfully, correspondents say.

She enjoys opera, reads fiction, and goes to the gym regularly. Trekking is one of her favourite ways to relax, and earlier this year she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

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See also:
27 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
New government in New Zealand
25 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Shipley's late NZ election appeal
26 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Politicians woo the Maori

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