Australia's Abbott survives leadership challenge

Commentators speculate on how long prime minister can endure

Commentators speculate on how long prime minister can endure

MELBOURNE – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott survived a leadership challenge Monday but appeared shaken after more than a third of his party's lawmakers voted against him.

The prime minister emerged victorious after an early morning motion among Liberal Party lawmakers that saw 61 vote against declaring the party leadership vacant, with 39 in favor.

However, it was unclear if the ballot would secure Abbott’s grip on office or merely delay his eventual ousting.

Within moments of the result of the special party meeting in Canberra being announced, veteran political analyst Barrie Cassidy, a former chief advisor to Prime Minister Bob Hawke, was predicting that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull “may challenge in the next 24 hours.”

According to polls, Turnbull is more popular among the wider electorate than Abbott but his liberal views on issues like the environment make him less attractive to the Liberal Party’s conservative core.

Sky News speculated there could be another leadership vote before the end of the week.

Several Liberal legislators told ABC News that Abbott looked "shocked" when he saw that more than a third of his party’s lawmakers had voted against him. Others said he appeared "chastened."

In a brief press conference after the vote, Abbott said: “We think that when you elect a government, when you elect a prime minister, you deserve to keep that government and that prime minister until you have a chance to change your mind.

“In essence we are a strong economy with so much creativity and dynamism and the challenge for government is to work with you, not against you.

“I love this country and I will do my best to help our country to succeed.”

However, opinion polls continue to show Abbott and his Liberal-National coalition government flagging.

The prime minister has alienated many by his apparently autocratic style – making so-called “captain’s calls” on controversial issues. Last week he pledged to be more consultative.

A Newspoll survey for The Australian newspaper showed Abbott’s personal approval at a record low and gave him the worst ranking for any prime minister since 1994.

The poll revealed voters would overwhelmingly prefer Turnbull or Foreign Minister Julie Bishop ahead of Abbott.

The government’s rating fell to 43 per cent with the opposition Labor Party on 57 per cent.

Labor leader Bill Shorten enjoyed a 48 percent rating against Abbott’s 30 percent on who would make the better prime minister. More than two-thirds of voters are dissatisfied with Abbott.

News Corp reported the result as being compared to the first leadership contest between then-Treasurer Paul Keating and Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1991, when Hawke held on by 66 votes to 44. He was unseated by Keating six months later.

Earlier, Abbott had promised to fight any challenge, warning against repeating the “chaos" of Labor’s leadership crisis that saw it lose power two years ago.

West Australian lawmaker Luke Simpkins, who initiated the leadership “spill” motion, said before the vote that the electorate had lost faith in Abbott. “No one started this apart from, unfortunately, the prime minister himself,” Simpkins told reporters, according to News Corp.

Shorten described the government as "in paralysis."

Three years ago, commenting on a challenge to then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Abbott said: “Given that one-third of her parliamentary colleagues and a quarter of her cabinet colleagues have today expressed their lack of confidence in her, how can she claim to have a mandate to continue as Prime Minister?”

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency