Farce as Australian PM wins 'unopposed' battle for power
SOME called it a farce, some called it a charade, and others used less printable terms.
But at the end of a dramatic and bizarre day in Australian politics, Julia Gillard remained prime minister after she called a leadership vote in which no one emerged to stand against her.
Leadership tensions within the governing Labour Party had been brewing almost non-stop since Ms Gillard ousted her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, in June 2010, and then called an election that led to her cobbling together a minority Labour government propped up by Greens and Independents.
Last February, Mr Rudd attempted to snatch the leadership back from Australia's first female prime minister but lost by a sizeable margin in a ballot of Labour MPs and senators.
Yesterday, following a series of opinion polls predicting a landslide victory for the conservative coalition in an election on September 14, disquiet about Ms Gillard's leadership erupted yet again.
In an effort to lance the boil, one of Ms Gillard's senior ministers, Simon Crean, urged Labour politicians to petition her to subject herself to another vote.
The prime minister then wrong-footed her opponents by calling a ballot for 4.30pm local time, giving Mr Rudd's backers just two hours to establish how many votes he could count on.
As the clock ticked towards 4.30pm, there was no sign of Mr Rudd. Then, with less than 10 minutes to go, he finally appeared.
He would not be contesting the leadership, he declared, because he had promised after last year's ballot that he would challenge again only if an overwhelming majority of his colleagues drafted him in. And unlike others, he said – in a dig at Ms Gillard, who deposed him days after protesting she had no intention of doing so – "I'm not prepared to dishonour my word".
Cynics interpreted that as meaning that he had done the maths and ascertained that he could not win.
A stony-faced Ms Gillard claimed that the leadership issue had been "settled in the most conclusive fashion possible".
She said something similar after Mr Rudd's attempt to overthrow her last year.
Their party, which is languishing 12 points behind the coalition, according to a poll earlier this week, is likely to see its support drop even further following this fiasco. (© Independent News Service)