Bruised Australian prime minister survives leadership challenge, for now

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defeated Dutton 48-35 in the party-room vote for the leadership of the Liberal Party. (AFP)
Updated 21 August 2018

Bruised Australian prime minister survives leadership challenge, for now

  • Malcolm Turnbull defeated Dutton 48-35 in the party-room vote for the leadership of the Liberal Party
  • He must return to the polls by May 2019 and could break the impasse by calling an early election

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull survived a leadership challenge by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Tuesday, government officials said, but the narrow margin of his win did little to dampen speculation about his future.
Turnbull defeated Dutton 48-35 in the party-room vote for the leadership of the Liberal Party, the senior party in the center-right government coalition, officials said. The vote came after a sharp fall in opinion poll ratings and talk of a challenge that have raised the possibility of an early election.
Seeking to safeguard his leadership, Turnbull called on his party to back him or risk losing the next election to the opposition Labor party.
“We know that instability undermines the ability of any government to get anything done. Unity is absolutely critical,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.
Labor wasted no time in moving a no-confidence motion against Turnbull in parliament, which would trigger an election if successful. The vote requires the support of 76 lawmakers, meaning that just one government MP would need to join Labor and independents to topple Turnbull.
“If the prime minister’s own party does not want him, and nearly half of his party voted against him remaining prime minister, why should the parliament put up with him?” Labor leader Bill Shorten told parliament.
Turnbull must return to the polls by May 2019 and could break the impasse by calling an early election. However, a state election in Victoria scheduled for late November is seen limiting him to dates before the end of October if he intended to hold a national poll this year.
“He’s always got that in his back pocket. If it looks like there’s another attempt to dislodge him, he could try to lock his leadership in by taking the coalition to an election,” said Nick Economou, senior lecturer in politics at Monash University in Melbourne.
A spokesman for Turnbull declined to comment on the prospect of an early election.
The political instability could be contributing to falling consumer confidence, an economist warned on Tuesday.
“The decline ... may reflect the impact of the messy political debate locally and the associated slump in support for the current Turnbull government,” said ANZ Head of Australian Economics David Plank.
Australia’s stock market also fell more than one percent on Tuesday, its biggest drop in five months.
Turnbull declared the leadership open earlier on Tuesday amid a backbench uprising as opinion polls showed the government on course for a heavy election defeat.
His position remains in jeopardy despite surviving Dutton’s challenge, stoking expectations of further political instability in a country that has seen six different leaders since 2009.
“We’ve seen it so often in Australian politics — this two-stage act play in removing a prime minister — and, given how close the vote was, there’s definitely more to come,” said Haydon Manning, a political science professor at Flinders University in South Australia state.
Turnbull came to power in a party-room coup in September 2015 when he ousted former premier Tony Abbott, who also survived an internal leadership contest before his eventual defeat.
Turnbull, a social liberal and multi-millionaire former merchant banker, rode an early wave of popular support but his standing has diminished significantly.
He has struggled to appeal to conservative voters, while progressive supporters have been disappointed as they watched government policies shift to the right as Turnbull tried to appease a powerful right-leaning backbench.
The uneasy unity held sufficiently to secure a narrow election victory in 2016.
However, that fragile peace was broken this week by the weakening of the government’s centerpiece energy policy, which had included the imposition of a target of a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions from Australia’s energy generators, an issue that has repeatedly divided the government.
Dutton, a conservative who has the support of the powerful right wing of the Liberal Party, resigned from the Cabinet after losing the vote, Turnbull said.
Turnbull said he asked Dutton to stay in his ministerial post but Dutton declined. Treasurer Scott Morrison would act as interim home affairs minister, Turnbull said.
Dutton, a former policeman from Queensland state, can now canvass support from the backbench to mount a potential fresh challenge.
Dutton did not rule out another challenge as he thanked his colleagues for their support. “I have gone through what my job is now and that is to make sure that I can help the coalition win the next election,” he said.


Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.