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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks during a press conference, in Sydney.(Photo: Rick Rycroft, AP)

Australia’s Abbott survives leadership challenge

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott has survived a challenge to his leadership, reports AP.

Australian lawmakers had gathered in the national capital on Monday to decide whether to oust the beleaguered Abbott after only 16 months in power in the face of dismal opinion polling and a voter revolt.

Chief party whip Philip Ruddock said a meeting of lawmakers in the ruling conservative Liberal Party voted 61-39 Monday to reject a motion that called for a ballot for the party leadership. The challenge was initiated by disgruntled lawmakers halfway through Abbott’s first 3-year-term in office

The challenge to Abbott’s leadership — a “spill motion” that declares the party leadership open to any candidates in a ballot — was triggered by disgruntled lawmakers last week and was to be discussed Tuesday at the year’s first scheduled meeting of the ruling Liberal Party’s 102 lawmakers.

But Abbott on Sunday arranged a special meeting for Monday morning, leaving some lawmakers scrambling to book earlier flights to Canberra, and giving his opponents less time to garner support to overthrow him.

“The last thing Australia needs right now is instability and uncertainty,” Abbott said.

Abbott had said earlier that he could lose in the vote.

“It’s a pretty chastening experience to have a spill motion moved on you after just 16 months in government — a very chastening experience,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. Sunday.

“And I am determined that my government, if it continues after tomorrow, will learn from this experience, will be different and better.”

Abbott has come under increasing criticism from some members of his party — which is conservative — over the government’s sagging approval ratings. Polls have slumped since May, when the government’s first annual budget was widely criticized as toughest on the poor and most vulnerable.

Recently, Abbott drew widespread criticism by making Britain’s Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, an Australian knight on Australia’s national day. Many saw it as an insult to worthy Australians.

Public dislike of Abbott has been blamed in part for big election losses for conservative governments in Victoria state in November and Queensland state last month.

If the so-called spill motion passes, the positions of the prime minister and his deputy, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, will be declared open. There would then be secret ballots of Liberal lawmakers to either return Abbott and Bishop or replace them.

Abbott is counting on a majority of his party colleagues defeating the motion so that the ballots don’t take place and the level of his support is not tested.

No lawmaker had announced whether he or she would be prepared to run against Abbott if the motion passed.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who led the party in opposition until he lost to the more conservative Abbott in a leadership ballot in 2009 by a single vote, is touted as the favorite to replace him. Turnbull refused to say on Sunday whether he would contest the leadership.

“The Cabinet ministers are all expected to support the prime minister on a spill motion,” Turnbull told Nine Network television, indicating that he would vote against the motion.

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