Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott could face a second challenge to his position this year after a senior minister called for a vote on his party leadership.
Former Liberal Party leader and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull said he asked the prime minister to open up the party’s leadership to an internal vote, as the two-year-old conservative coalition government struggles in opinion polls.
Mr Abbott is now under pressure to prove he has the support of his colleagues.
“Ultimately, the prime minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs,” Mr Turnbull told reporters. “He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs.”
Mr Turnbull, foreign minister Julie Bishop, the Liberal Party deputy leader, and social services minister Scott Morrison are considered potential candidates to replace Mr Abbott.
Nick Economou, a Monash University political scientist, said: “The Liberals have done enormous damage to themselves, regardless of the outcome.
“I find it hard to believe that someone would move on the leadership unless they were absolutely confident of their numbers.”
The government has trailed the opposition in a range of opinion polls since April last year. Mr Abbott survived a leadership challenge from within his party in February that was prompted by those polls and what some say were questionable judgments. At the time, Mr Abbott asked his colleagues for six months to improve his government’s popularity.
General elections are due in September next year.
Mr Turnbull, a 60-year-old former lawyer and merchant banker known for his moderate views, has long been considered Mr Abbott’s chief rival. He was opposition leader for two years before he lost a party-room ballot by a single vote to Mr Abbott in 2009.
Opinion polls show that Mr Turnbull is more popular than Mr Abbott, but many of those who prefer him vote for the centre-left Labour Party.