Australian PM John Howard, staunch US ally and outspoken critic of jihad and the global spread, lost his re-election bid. He was Australia’s second-longest serving prime minister behind Liberal Party founder Sir Robert Menzies. All Americans should mark the end of his tenure with gratitude. Aussie bloggers Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair liveblogged the results. PJM has a round-up.
A last-minute, idiotic stunt by Liberal Party operatives killed any chances Howard and the incumbents had of retaining power:
As the weeks dragged on the Liberal core message – that Labor could not be trusted on the economy and were ministerial L-platers – lost its impact, the opinion polls found. And then came last week’s shocker when a band of political dimwits in the crucial western Sydney seat of Lindsay distributed fake, nasty anti-Muslim pamphlets aimed at hurting Labor.
Mr Howard’s final address to the nation through a televised National Press Club speech on Thursday was marred by question after question about the tasteless affair.
Who is the new PM, Kevin Rudd?
“Today Australia has looked to the future,” said the country’s newly elected Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, claiming victory for his Labor Party for the first time since 1996. Poll after opinion poll had predicted a Labor triumph in national elections, but few had forecast its scale. Labor captured at least 22 seats from the ruling Liberal-National coalition — including, it appears, the northwestern Sydney seat held for the past 33 years by Prime Minister John Howard. With 77% of votes counted in Sydney’s Bennelong district, Howard trailed by several hundred votes. In an emotional speech Nov. 24 Howard took full responsibility for the conservatives’ defeat. Then one of Australia’s most successful leaders — and one of President George W. Bush’s staunchest western allies — walked off the stage and into retirement.
A year ago, few even in his own party believed Rudd, a 50-year-old former diplomat and bureaucrat who has been in Parliament for only nine years, had a hope of overturning the P.M. Indeed, Howard had seen off four Labor opponents in a row. A prissy, bookish multimillionaire, Rudd was far from the stereotypical Aussie bloke. But with the help of focus groups, public-relations advisers and expressions like “mate” and “fair dinkum,” he made himself over as a cooler, younger version of 68-year-old Howard: not a revolutionary, just a renovator. His slick, buzzword-driven campaign — “New leadership,” “fresh ideas,” “plans,” “the future” — took Labor’s popularity rating into the high 50s, and kept it there.
Pundits have spent much of the past year debating what the trend to Labor said about Australia. In a country where voting is compulsory, elections turn on a dozen or so marginal seats, where small shifts in voter sentiment can make or break governments. There was reason to think swinging voters would applaud Howard: Australia is in its 16th successive year of economic growth, and unemployment and interest rates are the lowest since the ’70s. “This is the first defeat of a government in decades where there was no evident anger or public rage,” said Liberal Senator Michael Baume. Instead there was ennui. Many voters were tired of Howard, and unexcited by Treasurer (now Opposition leader) Peter Costello, 50, who was due to take over from Howard in 2009. There were also concerns about small interest-rate rises, new industrial relations laws, health care and education, and — in a period of drought — water and climate change.
Australian elections have become increasingly presidential, and Labor cast this one as a two-man race: Kevin vs John, youth vs age, the future vs the past. A vote for Rudd was a vote for someone new. But not too different. Cartoonists drew Rudd as a mini-Howard. A satirical video on YouTube cast the Chinese-speaking Labor leader as Chairman Mao, with subtitles reading: “Rudd unnerve decrepit Howard with clever strategy of ‘similar difference.'” Rather than attacking Howard’s strengths, Rudd appropriated them. “I am not a socialist,” Rudd insisted. “I am an economic conservative.” On issue after issue, from federal intervention in dysfunctional Aboriginal communities, to national security, to the expansion of coal and uranium mining, Rudd adopted the government’s line.
The new P.M. is likely to go Howard’s way on foreign policy, too. What he described as “fundamental differences” with Howard — his vows to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and pull troops from Iraq — are largely symbolic.
That’s a relief, if true. It won’t stop the Bush Derangement crowd from crowing that the loss is a proxy referendum on America and the war. But they see everything as a referendum on America and the war.
Here’s that Mao/Rudd video:
And FWIW, here’s a more famous video of Rudd’s earwax-eating moment last month:
Ed Morrissey notes that the Aussie-American bond predates Howard and will likely remain strong:
The important point to remember is that Australian-American friendship goes back much further than any one administration in either nation. It is a friendship of the peoples, not the leaders, and that relationship and our mutual interests in freedom and liberty will remain long past any one election. Just as our alliance with Britain did not rely on Tony Blair alone, our ties to Australia will continue with Kevin Rudd — and perhaps even grow stronger.
Still, we will miss John Howard. It’s impossible not to regret the retirement of a man who stood tall and firm against the murderous onslaught and told the world exactly what was at stake in the conflict. Thank you, Mr. Howard, and the best of luck to you in the future.