In Australia, “unelectable” Tony Abbott has been elected prime minister in a landslide.
Abbot is the leader of the conservative, right-of-center coalition which, to make things a bit confusing for Americans, in Australia is called the Liberal-National Party.
With about 65 percent of the vote counted, Abbott’s conservatives have won 54 percent of the popular vote, giving them at least 77 seats in the 150-seat Australia House of Representatives, Reuters reports. “Party analysts said Abbott would end up with a majority of around 40 seats, ending the country’s first minority government since World War Two. Labor had relied upon independent and Greens support for the past three years.”
Abbot’s coalition defeated the Labor Party (equivalent to the liberal/left Democrats in the US) led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Key issues in the campaign included government spending and illegal immigration (sound familiar?). Abbott has vowed to repeal the controversial carbon tax — which he called “socialism masquerading as environmentalism” — and intends to implement a generous parental leave law.
Abbott, who the pundits at one time claimed was unelectable because of his so-called gaffes, has an interesting background. Born in London and a member of Australia’s House of Representatives since 1994 and opposition leader since 2009, he was a Rhode Scholar who at one time studied for the priesthood. He also worked as a journalist, briefly ran a concrete plant, and was a political advisor before running for office himself. A volunteer firefighter, he is former boxer who now surfs and competes in triathlons.
He even made a somewhat awkward campaign appearance with two of his daughters on the Australian version of Big Brother.
In a speech summarizing his policy positions, Abbott said in part, “My vision for Australia is not that big brother government knows best; it’s that our country will best flourish when all of our citizens, individually and collectively, have the best chance to be their best selves. Government’s job is rarely to tell people what to do; mostly, it’s to make it easier for people to make their own choices.”
Outgoing PM Rudd had ousted fellow Laborite Julia Gillard as prime minister in June in what turned out to be a failed attempt to salvage the election and hold on to political power. Gillard herself had replaced Rudd (who was elected in 2007) in 2010 for similar reasons. In that election, the Liberals and Labor split the popular vote, and Abbott nearly became prime minister at that time. Because Australia has a parliamentary system (unlike the US president, the prime minister is not directly elected by the voters), however, a few so-called independent senators combined with Labor lawmakers to chose Gillard as the head of government.
In Australia this time around, the Liberals (i.e., the conservatives) won enough parliamentary seats to put Abbott into the top job.
Prior to the Australia election, the Guardian described the unprecedented infighting in the Labor Party that contributed to its decisive defeat by Tony Abbott and his conservative coalition:
“An Abbott victory would end six years of Labor rule dominated by leadership tensions between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, who between them achieved something of a political precedent by unseating each other within three years. Gillard overthrew Rudd to become Australia’s first female prime minister just before the 2010 poll, after which she clung to power by forming a minority government with the support of the Greens and an assortment of independents. But with opinion polls predicting a wipeout, a desperate Labor then moved against Gillard to return Rudd to the prime ministership only six weeks before he called the 2013 poll.”