Tue, Aug 01, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Howard decides to stand again for prime minister

AUSSIE BATTLER The Australian PM said that he had consulted long and hard with party colleagues about the decision, dashing the hopes of his deputy

AP , CANBERRA

Australia's leadership crisis eased yesterday when Prime Minister John Howard announced he plans to lead his party into next year's general elections and his ambitious deputy said he'd put aside his own desire for the top job.

Howard, Australia's premier since 1996, ended months of speculation that he would retire, faxing lawmakers in the government a letter saying he decided to run again after consulting widely with his Liberal Party colleagues.

"My soundings tell me that the strong view of the party is that the current leadership team, with me as leader and Peter Costello as deputy leader, should remain in place through to the next election," the letter said.

Costello, who also is treasurer in Howard's Cabinet, then ruled out challenging the prime minister before the election or stepping down.

"My consultation with my colleagues -- and I think this is backed by public opinion -- leads me to believe that they want me to continue to work as I have in the past," Costello told reporters. "And so I have decided that I will continue to work for the re-election of the government as the deputy leader and the treasurer."

Howard, 67, has been under increasing pressure to announce his future plans since Costello, 49, claimed early this month that the prime minister reneged years ago on a promise to hand over power to his deputy. Howard has denied ever making such a deal.

Still, Costello had been widely expected to remain loyal, in part because he does not have enough support to mount a challenge.

Howard later said Costello's decision to stay on "would be warmly supported and applauded by all of his colleagues."

He said Costello had "made a wonderful contribution" and added that it was "crucial to our prospects at the next election that he continue not only as deputy leader but also as treasurer."

Chris Pyne, a senior lawmaker and Costello supporter, noted that Howard was not committing to serving another full three-year term.

Australian National University political scientist Michael McKinley said by hanging on, Howard was weakening Costello's claim to succeed him.

The delay would strengthen support for other potential leaders, including ministers Tony Abbott and Brendan Nelson.

Opposition leader Kim Beazley, who has led his Labor Party to two election defeats against Howard, welcomed the prime minister's commitment to stand again.

"This is the fight I want and the fight I'm going to win," Beazley told reporters.

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