Australian PM knocks out rival, but not discontent

Associated Press Modified: February 27, 2012 at 5:00 am •  Published: February 26, 2012
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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard may have survived a challenge from within her own party, but the dissent that forced Monday's vote isn't going away.

Gillard defeated Kevin Rudd, her former foreign minister, 71 votes to 31 in a ballot of Labor Party lawmakers, ending Rudd's attempt to recapture the job Gillard took from him in an internal party coup in 2010. But she remains unpopular with voters, and unless that changes she could lead Labor to huge losses in elections slated for next year.

Though Rudd said he will not challenge Gillard again, his supporters predicted that party power brokers will simply nominate someone else to do so within months.

"If Julia Gillard wins today and we end up in the same position as we are now, in terms of the polls, in several months' time, then my view is the same people who installed Julia Gillard will be looking for a candidate to replace Julia Gillard," Sen. Doug Cameron, a Rudd supporter, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. before Monday's vote.

Gillard described her win as "overwhelming" after months of "ugly" infighting within the ranks of the center-left party. She said that if the infighting ends and the party is united, Labor could "absolutely win the next election" against the conservative opposition.

Rudd, who warned during his brief leadership campaign that Gillard would lead Labor to certain defeat next year, called on Labor to unite behind her.

"I bear no one any malice and if I've done wrong to anyone with what I've said and what I've done, I apologize," he told reporters.

Rudd said it was time the "wounds were healed" within the party.

Rudd has never forgiven Gillard since she deposed him as prime minister two years ago. The Labor Party had been in turmoil for months with talk that he would challenge Gillard, and he resigned as foreign minister shortly before she called the leadership vote last week.

Rudd's resignation means Gillard must reshape her Cabinet, and the changes could go well beyond one post. At least five other members of the Cabinet backed Rudd, including Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and Emergency Management Minister Robert McClelland, who both publicly claimed their government was doomed at the next elections under Gillard's leadership.

Gillard declined to comment on the fate of the Cabinet ministers who publicly supported Rudd. After the vote, one of her own supporters, Sen. Mark Arbib, said he would quit as sports minister and as a senator.

Arbib, a party power broker who helped orchestrate Gillard's 2010 coup, said he was resigning in the interest of restoring government unity. An increasing number of lawmakers say the coup was a mistake and blame the continuing turmoil on Arbib.

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