Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has resigned after she lost a Labor Party leadership vote to her longtime rival, Kevin Rudd.
Gillard had called the vote after months of speculation over her ability to lead the Labor Party to victory in parliamentary elections that are due to take place in August or September. The speculation over Gillard's future reached new heights in recent days, after reports surfaced that Labor parliamentarians were instigating a petition to force a vote on her leadership.
Gillard had referred to this petition as a political "Loch Ness Monster"– in common knowledge but out of sight. Now the tally has been taken, former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has taken power. Rudd won the leadership count by 57-45.
After years of poor relations between the two candidates, Labor Party officials hope that Rudd's victory and Gillard's retirement from politics will put the party in a far better position to successfully contest next month's election. The latest polls indicate that this hope might have some positive grounding. Regardless, Gillard had seemed to embrace the finality of the vote, arguing that it was an all or nothing situation.
"If you win, you're Labor leader; if you lose, you retire from politics," she said.
Nonetheless, there was an evident personal element to this contest. In many ways, Gillard's June 2010 rise to the Prime Minister's office was the inverse of her fall from power today. In 2010, Gillard waged a quiet but unambiguous challenge to replace Rudd in power. Following this discord, in February 2012 Rudd resigned as Gillard's Foreign Minister after claiming that "faceless men" were attacking his credibility. Now the dynamic has come full circle.
Rudd's return is unlikely to cause a dramatic change in US-Australian relations. While President Obama maintained a close relationship with Gillard, during his former term as Prime Minister, Rudd earned positive words from both President George W. Bush and President Obama. This personal friendship is joined by the binding of U.S. and Australian interests on issues like intelligence co-operation and overt policy alignment.
Joshua Meltzer, a former Australian diplomat and expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington says that the strength of the U.S.-Australian relationship is that it's built to "outlast Prime Ministers and Presidents." From Meltzer's perspective, the U.S. should expect continuity no matter who's in charge.
Rudd's return to power provides another chapter to the career of one of Australia's most enigmatic politicians. Regarded for his Chinese language skills and evident political survivability, Rudd has long been a fixture at the (sometimes literal) heart of Australia's political life.
Rudd now faces the task of leading a wounded party into a difficult election: Polling data indicates that his party faces a serious challenge in its pursuit of another term in power.