EDITORIAL: Australia steering Rudd-erless
IT HAS OFTEN BEEN SAID that democracy thrives in a turbulent climate.
If there is any doubt, one only has to look to Australia, one of the more prosperous democracies in this global financial crisis, but which is now recovering from a bruising leadership crisis very much intact.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday won a divisive leadership battle with former prime minister and more recently Minister of Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd, who resigned his job while on a visit to the United States of America.
Mr Rudd was a very popular first-term prime minister who had led the ruling Labour Party out of 11 years in opposition.
He was ruthlessly removed by Gillard in a leadership contest just over a year ago.
He did the unthinkable and announced his challenge to Gillard during two Press conferences in Washington, denouncing his prime minister, and in the process made Australia a laughing stock on the world’s biggest stage. It exposed the underlying disdain for each other.
Mr Rudd’s strategy was relying on his popular support among Australians, not his parliamentary colleagues. It is part of a notion among certain people that national popularity is more important in a party leadership contest.
It was a reckless move by Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard took the bait, assured of her support among the parliamentary group.
So, rather than rely solely on direct lobbying of colleagues for support, Mr Rudd enlisted the support of people who could not vote.
Ultimately, all members of parliament wants to keep their seats and Mr Rudd ought to have known (or was reckless) that the survival instinct eventually overrides personal loyalty in such situations. A better option would have been to wait until closer to the general election.
Thus his appeal to the general public, from which he claimed he had received overwhelming support, was to urge them to contact their local MPs and tell them to vote for him. This was somewhat short-sighted.
This is the paradox. Ms Gillard is well liked by the majority of her colleagues but disliked by the majority of the voters.
Mr Rudd is reportedly loathed by the majority of his colleagues, but is vastly more popular than Ms Gillard among the public.
Ms Gillard said that government was about more than just being a great campaigner and a populist; it was about the ability to keep going, no matter how adverse the circumstances. She managed to defeat Mr Rudd in a leadership contest in June 2010 despite his popularity.
It is a weird feature of Australian politics that though it survived the global financial crisis better than most and has the most stable economy, yet it has the most unstable domestic politics.
The lesson is that so long as the institutions are resilient, turbulence is healthy for democracies and, despite the occasional fracture within political parties, they will survive short-term upheavals.