Bush Ally Howard Defeated in Australia

By Rohan Sullivan
Associated Press
Sunday, November 25, 2007

SYDNEY Nov. 24 -- Conservative Prime Minister John Howard suffered a humiliating defeat Saturday at the hands of the left-leaning opposition, whose leader has promised to immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and withdraw Australia's combat troops from Iraq.

Labor Party head Kevin Rudd's pledges move Australia sharply away from policies that had made Howard one of President Bush's staunchest allies.

Rudd has named global warming as his top priority, and his signing of the Kyoto Protocol will leave the United States as the only industrialized country not to have joined the 1997 pact that set mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases.

Rudd said he would withdraw Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq, leaving twice that number in mostly security roles. Howard had said that all the troops would stay as long as needed.

Official figures from the Australian Electoral Commission showed Labor far in front after more than 70 percent of the ballots had been counted -- with 53 percent of the vote compared with 46.7 percent for Howard's coalition.

Using those figures, an Australian Broadcasting Corp. analysis showed that Labor would get at least 81 places in the 150-seat lower house of Parliament -- a clear majority.

Rudd is expected to take office next week.

President Bush congratulated Rudd and also sent best wishes to Howard, without commenting on Rudd's intention to withdraw combat troops from Iraq.

"The United States and Australia have long been strong partners and allies, and the president looks forward to working with this new government to continue our historic relationship," said Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman.

The election was an embarrassing end to the four-term career of Howard, Australia's second-longest-serving leader. As little as a year ago, he had appeared almost unassailable. But on Saturday he was in real danger of becoming only the second sitting prime minister in 106 years of federal government to lose his own seat in Parliament.

Rudd, 50, a former diplomat who speaks fluent Chinese, urged voters to support him because Howard, 68, was out of touch with modern Australia and ill-equipped to deal with issues such as climate change.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company