Party rule changes make Australian PM’s job safer

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was branded “Recycled Rudd” by some in Australia’s media after he lost power in an internal government leadership wrangle and then snatched it back in a similar showdown three years later.

On Monday, he succeeded in changing the ruling party’s regulations to make his job safer.

Lawmakers in Rudd’s Labor Party agreed at a three-hour meeting with his proposal to tighten rules dictating how a prime minister can be dumped by a government.

With elections expected within weeks, the center-left party is presenting itself as a more stable administration that is now far less likely to jettison a leader when opinion polls turn against them.

The opposition has argued that voters wouldn’t know who they would get as prime minister if they voted for Labor to govern for another three years.

The internal party reforms are seen as the final changes Rudd needed to make before setting an election date.

“The party has decided also to make sure that the prime minister that the people elect in the future will be the prime minister the people get in the future,” Rudd told reporters.

Previously, disgruntled Labor lawmakers could force a leadership ballot if they could persuade a third of their colleagues to sign a petition. They changed it to require a signing by at least 75 percent of Labor lawmakers.

And the decision is no longer for the lawmakers alone to make. Unelected members of the party now have half the votes in any ballot to decide a prime minister.

Labor has trailed the conservative opposition coalition in opinion polls for the past two years. But the government has gained popularity since Rudd ousted Julia Gillard as prime minister a month ago in a ballot of lawmakers 57 votes to 45.

Rudd is regarded as a strong campaigner but weaker at administration once an election is won.

Labor had been in opposition for more than a decade before Rudd led them to an election victory in 2007.

When his popularity began to wane in opinion polling, Gillard, then his deputy, challenged his leadership in 2010. Rudd then surrendered without a ballot when he discovered how few of his colleagues continued to support him.

Gillard called an election within weeks and Labor scraped through to form a minority government.

Rudd challenged her in 2012 but was soundly defeated 71 votes to 31. While Gillard’s grip on power was then strong, the government she led appeared bitterly divided.

Gillard plans to quit politics at the next election in the interests of promoting Labor unity.

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