Australian PM faces down leadership challenge

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard has faced down a leadership challenge, emerging victorious from a party vote after former leader Kevin Rudd made a last-minute decision not to run.

In a tense day of political manoeuvring, Gillard called the shock ballot as internal unrest reached fever pitch in the ruling Labor party which is floundering ahead of general elections in September.

After being re-appointed as Rudd withdrew and the challenge evaporated, a defiant Gillard said she now planned to get on with governing the country.

“Today the leadership of our political party has been settled and has been settled in the most conclusive fashion possible,” she said. “The whole business is completely at an end. It has ended now.

But despite her stunning tactical victory, analysts warned that faction-ridden Labor’s internal problems were not over and that the public brawling would further alienate voters.

Gillard’s move followed senior cabinet minister Simon Crean openly urging a party ballot to end speculation that was “killing” the party, with the premier lagging badly in opinion polls.

But Rudd, who was ruthlessly ousted by Gillard in mid-2010, indicated he did not have the numbers to topple the premier, after being roundly beaten when he resigned as foreign minister and launched a previous challenge in Feb 2012.

Since losing that battle, he has repeatedly pledged his support for the prime minister and despite his backers campaigning behind the scenes, maintained last night he was a man of honour.

“I’m not prepared to dishonour my word… others take such commitments lightly, I do not,” he said minutes before Labor MPs were due to vote.

“I have also said that the only circumstances under which I would consider a return to leadership would be if there was an overwhelming majority of the parliamentary party requesting such a return, drafting me to return and the position was vacant.

“I am here to inform you that those circumstances do not exist.”

In the ballot, Gillard retained the leadership with no challengers.


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