By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Kevin Rudd has screen presence and a common touch, but he aggravated Australian officials as prime minister with chaotic leadership and a bad temper. His successor, Julia Gillard, gets higher marks among many insiders, but to much of the public she seems cold or insincere.
The rivals, once political partners, will face off Monday in a vote of Labor Party lawmakers called by Gillard in hopes of extinguishing Rudd's desire to recapture the top job. Labor lawmakers turned on Rudd two years ago to install Gillard, but he is banking on his popularity with the public and the fact that polls suggest the party will suffer landslide losses in elections next year with Gillard at the helm.
Sydney University political scientist Peter Chen said Rudd cannot win over his party, but Gillard cannot win over the public.
"The great irony is she's very effective and Rudd and her could have made an incredible partnership really, but because Rudd is such an egocentric individual, that has not played out, and Labor will lose the next election regardless of who becomes prime minister after Monday," Chen said.
Rudd resigned as Gillard's foreign minister on Wednesday, prompting Gillard to call the leadership ballot. He urged voters to lobby their representatives and the media to demand his reinstatement as prime minister.
"This is ultimately a question of people power," he told reporters on Friday when he announced he would contest the leadership.
"What I'm saying directly to the Australian people is: If you have a strong view on the future prime ministership of the country, then your power as the people is what will count in the days ahead."
Gillard said Rudd is an excellent campaigner who has proven himself to be incapable of governing effectively.
"The ultimate measure of a government ... isn't opinion polls in newspapers," she said Saturday. "The ultimate measure of a government is whether it led this nation to a stronger and fairer future."
But undecided lawmakers may be swayed by three reputable opinion polls published in newspapers on Saturday showing that Australians prefer Rudd as prime minister over Gillard.
Labor chose Rudd as its leader and Gillard as his deputy when it was in the opposition in 2006. At the time, the pair appealed to a wide cross-section of conservatives and progressives, and when Rudd led Labor into office the next year, he was a party hero.
His popularity remained high for the next two years, but it slumped after a series of policy changes. Gillard challenged him to a leadership ballot in June 2010, and when Rudd discovered how little support he had left within his own party in Parliament, he decided against opposing her.
Many voters, however, were angry that the party had deposed a prime minister before they had a chance to pass judgment on election day. Gillard scraped through 2010 elections to lead Australia's first minority government since World War II, and recent opinion polls show her well behind Rudd.
From the comfort of their lounge chairs, Australians tend to like what they see on the TV screens with Rudd. The 54-year-old is quick to smile with a nerdy sense of humor, an eye-glazing penchant for public service jargon and a sharp sense of social justice born of a tough childhood raised by a widowed mother. His command of Mandarin also seemed to be a bonus for a modern Australian leader in what has been dubbed the Asian century.
Those with closer contact are aware of an explosive temper. They complain of a monumental ego, punishing hours demanded of underlings, and an inability to delegate or consult with colleagues.
An influential national newspaper labeled him "Captain Chaos" within seven months of him gaining office, and reported that senior public servants waited in corridors for hours for meetings. Staff turnover was high. Ministers waited until he went overseas to get routine signatures from Gillard, who was acting prime minister in his absence.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon recalled that when she was Rudd's health minister, he told her he wanted to take over the national health system from the states. Roxon said there were no Cabinet documents prepared or legal advice on the implications, but that he wanted Cabinet approval before making the announcement — in four days.