Australia’s beleaguered prime minister has been ousted from his position by an internal government challenge, and the party’s former leader has been elected to replace him.
Tony Abbott lost a leadership ballot by members of his conservative Liberal Party following the second challenge to his position this year.
The change in leadership comes as the two-year-old conservative coalition government struggles in opinion polls.
Liberal Party whip Scott Buchholz told reporters that politicians voted 54 to 44 to replace Mr Abbott with his chief rival, communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The vote continues an extraordinarily volatile period in Australian politics, Mr Turnbull becoming Australia’s fourth prime minister in just over two years. The political turbulence comes as Australia enters its record 25th year of continuous economic growth.
However, a cooling mining boom that helped Australia avoid recession during the global financial crisis has slashed tax revenue and a hostile Senate has blocked several key parts of the government’s financial agenda.
The change at the helm is also likely to lead to a major cabinet reshuffle, with treasurer Joe Hockey, finance minister Mathias Cormann, defence minister Kevin Andrews and employment minister Eric Abetz among ministers who publicly supported Mr Abbott against the Turnbull challenge.
Mr Abbott’s former Liberal Party deputy, foreign minister Julie Bishop, who supported Mr Turnbull’s bid, was re-elected party deputy.
She defeated Mr Andrews 70 votes to 30.
The Liberals were elected in 2013 as a stable alternative to the then-Labour government. Labour came to power under Kevin Rudd at elections in 2007, only to dump him for his deputy Julia Gillard in 2010, months ahead of elections.
The bitterly divided and chaotic government then dumped Ms Gillard for Mr Rudd just months before the 2013 election.
Before Mr Rudd was elected in 2007, John Howard was in power for almost 12 years.
Last night’s contest pitted a man who has been described as the most socially conservative Australian prime minister in decades against a challenger some think is not conservative enough.
Unlike Abbott, Turnbull supports gay marriage, wants Australia to replace the British monarch with an Australian president as head of state, and backs a policy of making polluters pay for their carbon gas emissions. Turnbull earlier said the government was doomed to defeat with Abbott as leader. “Ultimately, the prime minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs,”