Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd ousted Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard as Labor Party leader in a dramatic internal ballot yesterday, deposing the country’s first female premier as the party fights desperately to head off defeat in September elections.
The embattled Gillard — who vowed to quit politics in September if she lost — called the vote after a day of internal party maneuvering to dump her in favor of her archrival and predecessor, whom she had ruthlessly deposed in 2010.
Rudd won the vote of Labor lawmakers 57 to 45, the official returning officer announced, amid mounting unease in the party over an expected rout by opposition Liberal-National Party leader Tony Abbott’s conservative opposition at the national polls scheduled for Sept. 14.
Gillard must now advise Australian Governor General Quentin Bryce that she is resigning as prime minister, which is expected to happen today, before Rudd can be sworn into office and build on his previous vows to reorient Australia’s resources-fueled economy towards the Asia-Pacific region.
At a pre-ballot news conference, Rudd said he had decided to heed the demands of MPs and challenge Gillard “because of the parlous circumstances we now face.”
“The truth, if we’re all being perfectly honest about it right now, is that we’re on course for a catastrophic defeat unless there is change,” said the Mandarin-speaking 55-year-old, who alienated some colleagues when in power with his volatile temper.
“So today I’m saying to you, the people of Australia, I’m seeking to respond to your call that I’ve heard from so many of you to do what I can to prevent Abbott from becoming prime minister,” Rudd added.
Gillard dispatched her rival in a 2010 party coup, but he remains popular with the public and is seen by many as Labor’s best hope of salvaging the elections, despite a series of policy missteps leading to his ousting three years ago.
Reports said he could build on the initiative of his leadership win and move the election date forward to August.
The reports said that Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan, a key Gillard supporter and her deputy, had also resigned, along with a number of other frontbenchers, including Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson.
“The mood was quite somber,” returning officer Chris Hayes said of the nearly one-hour meeting, adding that Gillard addressed the caucus on “the strength of her vision for the nation.”
It was the third time since the 2010 election that Gillard’s hold on power was tested.
The charismatic Rudd himself launched an unsuccessful challenge early last year, while he was Australian minister of foreign affairs, but was routed 71 votes to 31 and was forced onto the backbenches.
In March this year, Labor elder statesman Simon Crean made an abortive attempt to reinstall Rudd, who refused to stand and said at the time he would not challenge Gillard “under any circumstances.”
In the aftermath, several ministers who backed Rudd resigned, while Crean was sacked.
In confirming he would challenge this time, Rudd vowed to rebuild the faction-riven Labor Party.
“If I win this ballot, every effort I have in my being will be dedicated to uniting the Australian Labor Party,” he said. “No retributions, no paybacks, none of that stuff. It’s pointless, it’s old politics.”