Australian Leader Defeated in Election
Saturday, November 24, 2007; 11:22 PM
SYDNEY, Australia -- Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, one of the Bush administration's staunchest allies, suffered a humiliating election defeat Saturday at the hands of an opposition leader who has vowed to pull troops out of Iraq.
Labor leader Kevin Rudd, a Chinese-speaking former diplomat, has also promised to sign the Kyoto Protocol on capping greenhouse gas emissions, leaving the U.S. as the only industrialized country not to have joined it.
Rudd, speaking Sunday in the northeastern city of Brisbane at his first news conference as incoming prime minister, promised "action, and action now" on climate change. Rudd said Labor lawmakers were due to meet on Thursday, and he hoped that he and his ministers would be sworn in soon after that.
Howard, who reshaped his country's image abroad with unwavering support for the war in Iraq, dominated Australian politics for more than a decade but failed to read the signs that voters had grown tired of his rule.
Adding to the sting of his party's decisive defeat, official results showed Howard was likely to lose his parliamentary seat altogether. Only one other sitting prime minister has lost his district in the 106-year history of Australia's federal government.
The six-week campaign was fought largely over domestic issues such as economic management, and Howard's unpopular labor law reforms that critics say strip workers of their rights.
But a strong underlying factor was the prospect of a generational change.
Rudd, who was expected to be sworn in as prime minister in the coming week, had accused Howard of being out of touch with modern Australia and ill-prepared to deal with issues such as climate change and high-speed Internet.
Howard campaigned on his economic management, arguing that his government was mostly responsible for 17 years of unbroken economic growth, fueled by Chinese and Indian demand for Australian coal and other minerals. He contended that Rudd could not be trusted to maintain prosperous times.
Rudd said he planned to visit Washington next year, and that atop the agenda would be his plan to pull Australia's 550 combat troops out of Iraq. Howard had rejected withdrawal plans for Australia's troops in Iraq, and refused to ratify the pact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward," Rudd said Saturday in a victory speech before hundreds of cheering supporters in his home state of Queensland. "To plan for the future, to prepare for the future, to embrace the future and together as Australians to unite and write a new page in our nation's history."
The White House President Bush called Howard and Rudd Saturday evening.