Video: Aussie PM Julia Gillard defeats Kevin Rudd in leadership ballot
AUSTRALIA’S prime minister, Julia Gillard, has won a leadership challenge today against the man she ousted, Kevin Rudd, clinching an emphatic 71-31 victory in a party-room vote.
The strong margin is set to shore up Ms Gillard’s shaky leadership and will put a severe dent in Mr Rudd’s long-held ambitions to win back his old job.
But the bitter contest could eventually pave the way for the rise of a third candidate, especially if Ms Gillard cannot reverse the ruling Labor party’s poll slump.
The ballot, described as an act of mutual destruction, has led to the airing of deep tensions and long-held grievances by some of the government’s most senior ministers.
Despite the victory for Ms Gillard, who ousted Mr Rudd in a sudden coup in 2010, the poisonous contest could make it harder to overcome the weakness that led to the challenge in the first place: her low public support.
Just hours before the vote was due, a new poll showed Ms Gillard’s personal approval rating has plummeted from 32 to 26 per cent in the past two weeks and she continues to lag behind the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, as preferred prime minister.
But the Newspoll survey showed Labor’s primary vote had risen to a 12-month high of 35 per cent, though this is still unlikely to be enough to win the next election in 2013.
Since returning to Australia after his sudden resignation as foreign minister last week, Mr Rudd has run a Tea Party-style campaign to try to demonstrate his strong public support. He held a celebrity-style stroll through a Brisbane mall and urged the public to tell their local MPs whom they support.
In response, Ms Gillard and her supporters have repeatedly declared that the contest is not an episode of Celebrity Big Brother or Australian Idol.
“This is not about a celebrity poll - otherwise Kylie Minogue could end up being prime minister,” said Brendan O’Connor, a minister. “This is about who should lead the nation.”
Mr Rudd promised yesterday he will retire to the backbench and rule out a further challenge if he loses. “Whatever the outcome, I’d say to all my supporters, we unite,” he said.
Despite his pledges of “unequivocal support”, many believe Mr Rudd is planning a two-stage comeback in the mould of former prime minister Paul Keating’s two-challenge effort to take the leadership from Bob Hawke in 1991.
Another prospect is that if Ms Gillard’s polls do not improve, a third candidate — an “anyone-but-Kevin” - will emerge before the end of the year.