Australia to hold elections August 21

July 17th, 2010 - 10:44 am ICT by IANS  

Kevin Rudd Sydney, July 17 (DPA) Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Saturday announced general elections to be held August 21.
After a week of mounting speculation she met with Governor General Quentin Bryce Saturday morning and in accordance with the constitution asked for parliament to be dissolved for the early election.

Gillard has moved quickly since ousting Kevin Rudd as prime minister less than a month ago in a surprise coup.

Rudd was forced to resign when opinion polls showed he would lose the election due before the end of the year and a majority of Labor lawmakers wanted his then-deputy Gillard to take over.

Gillard said the election should be held as soon as possible as she needs to win her own mandate.

“It is the right of every Australian to choose their prime minister,” she said before she went to the governor general.

Opinion polls in the past week give Gillard’s Labor government a 4 to 6-percent lead over the conservative Liberal/National Party opposition. Betting agencies have Labor firm favourite to win.

The opposition needs to win 17 extra seats to give them the 76 seats needed to form a government.

Opinion polls show a marked improvement for Labor since Gillard took over, but she is facing some anger at the ruthless way she took power, particularly in Rudd’s home state of Queensland, the biggest battleground of the campaign.

Australia’s first female prime minister offers a marked contrast to opposition leader Tony Abbott. Both are career politicians and have been vigorous sparring partners for many years in fierce parliamentary debates.

Immediately after Gillard won the leadership she strode across the floor of parliament, shook Abbott’s hand strongly and grinned as she told him: “Game on.”

Gillard, 50, was born in Wales and her family migrated to Australia when she was six.

She was a radical student leader and entered parliament on the left wing of the Labor Party. She has since moved to the centre, this week painting herself as a fiscal conservative who won’t rock the boat.

In the three weeks she has been prime minister, Gillard overturned some of Rudd’s key policies in a bid to shore up support among the right. She has toughened border protection against refugees arriving by boat and cut a controversial proposed tax on mining profits.

Abbott, 52, a devout Roman Catholic who once trained to become a priest, is seen as one of the hard men of his party’s right wing and is close to the former premier John Howard who lost power to Labor in 2007.

He became opposition leader only eight months ago after challenging moderate leader Malcolm Turnbull and winning by just one vote.

Abbott is likely to attack the competency of the Labor government which bungled several infrastructure projects and portray Gillard as just another Rudd.

He is campaigning strongly on tougher border protection measures, including using the navy to turn around boats carrying asylum seekers.

Other major election issues include immigration and population growth, economic management and climate change.

Gillard’s danger is that by moving to the right she risks losing Labor voters to the Greens who currently have 13 percent support.

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