Why It Matters

Australia elections: Silver Fox v Faction Man

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's announcement of fresh polls on July 2 would have been called a snap election except that it came as no surprise. Even the precise date had been speculated on for weeks.

The Silver Fox, as he is called, took power last September in one of those tiresome Australian party coups that have given the nation no fewer than five prime ministers since 2010, earning Aussie politicians a reputation for being champion back-stabbers.

Mr Turnbull's popularity soared, then slid since leading that party coup against Mr Tony Abbott. He now seeks fresh legitimacy for a round of reforms needed to protect the economy as it seeks to move away from its traditional dependence on commodities to a more sophisticated mix of industries.

It may prove a bad gamble. The economy, after nearly a quarter century of continuous expansion - remarkable for an advanced nation - is slowing, the reason the central bank cut the benchmark rate last week to a record low. Worry about jobs is rising. The opposition Labor Party, led by Bill "Faction Man" Shorten, is running neck and neck in opinion polls.

These factors may not work well for Mr Turnbull, who is independently wealthy and came to politics after a successful career in investment banking.

Like the hard-grinding Mr Shorten, he, too, is a lawyer but the similarities end there.

The Labor man's pitch is about healthcare, education and climate change, issues that have great salience in uncertain times. It also is a fair guess that Mr Abbott may also not be averse to seeing Mr Turnbull fail at the hustings. Indeed, he could nudge that along.

By ordering fresh polls to both Houses of Parliament, Mr Turnbull is seeking to unwind the political deadlock that has seen the Upper House repeatedly block key government legislation. By current indications, though, Australia could be set for more of the same.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'Silver Fox v Faction Man'. Print Edition | Subscribe