Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has cemented her position as the leader of the ruling Labor Party by overcoming a challenge from former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd in a party leadership vote held on Monday in capital Canberra.
Gillard confirmed her premiership after winning the leadership ballot by 71 votes to 31. She called the vote last week following weeks of speculation that Rudd was going to challenge her position with the backing of some senior party members.
After the announcement of the result, Gillard thanked her colleagues for their "overwhelming endorsement" and expressed confidence in leading her party to victory in the next year's elections.
Stressing that Rudd would be honored by the Labor Party as well as the nation for the achievements he had made during his term as the country's Prime Minister, Gillard said she had put the events that led to his ouster behind her. Responding to a question about her future relations with Rudd, Gillard said: "We shook hands in the caucus room and spoke very briefly then."
"This issue - the leadership question - is now determined. I can assure you that this political drama is over, and you are back at center stage where you should rightly be," she said addressing the Australian people.
"I intend to be a stronger and more forceful advocate of what we are doing and what we are achieving for the Australian people," she said. "At the end of the day as Labor people we are driven by a common purpose and a common set of values, a common belief in what we want for Australia's future as a stronger and fairer nation."
Addressing a press conference after the vote, Rudd congratulated Gillard on "her strong win today," and said: "The caucus has spoken. I accept the verdict without qualification, without rancor. I dedicate myself to working fully for her re-election as Prime Minister of Australia."
Rudd, who is now expected to move to the backbenches after his defeat in the leadership fight, said he would continue to serve his community as a member of the Parliament. Admitting that he knew challenging Gillard for the party leadership would be tough, Rudd insisted that he believed it was still the "right thing" to do.
Rudd was elected Prime Minister in 2007 after defeating a coalition led by his predecessor John Howard in the general elections. But he was toppled from premiership by Gillard in June 2010 in an internal Labor Party coup ahead of the general election that brought the party back to power later that year. He was later appointed Foreign Minister in the Gillard government.
With her victory in Monday's leadership vote, Gillard is now expected to announce a Cabinet re-shuffle as some of her Ministers had come out in the open with their support for Rudd. Gillard said she would make an announcement on the issue in the coming days.
Rudd announced his resignation as Foreign Minister last week while on a visit to the United States, saying he believed he no longer enjoyed the support of the Prime Minister. He subsequently confirmed his intentions to challenge Gillard in the leadership vote, saying: "I want to finish the job the Australian people elected me to do when they elected me to become Prime Minister."
Ahead of the vote, both Gillard and Rudd had pledged to go back to the backbenches and renounce any further ambition for the Labor leadership if they lost the leadership ballot. However, both of them had claimed to have enough support within the party to win the leadership vote and lead the Labor into the next elections.
The developments come as the popularity rating of Gillard was near record low levels, mostly due to her plans for imposing new carbon and mining taxes as well as her policies to deal with the issue of large number of asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores by boat from Indonesia.
by RTT Staff Writer
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