Australia PM Julia Gillard wins leadership vote unopposed

CANBERRA (REUTERS) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard stared down a leadership crisis on Thursday and ensured she would lead the government until the Sept 14 elections after her chief rival, Mr Kevin Rudd, said he did not have enough support to replace her.

Ms Gillard has now defeated Mr Rudd for the leadership three times, but she faces the prospect of trying to unify a deeply divided party and then turning around opinion polls that show her government will be easily defeated in the general election.

"I think they're terminal. There is no way out of this," political analyst Nick Economou told Reuters, adding the leadership tension reinforced perceptions that the conservative opposition would easily win the election.

Ms Gillard was re-elected unopposed, while Treasurer Wayne Swan was re-elected deputy prime minister unopposed.

Ms Gillard's leadership has been under threat for most of the past two years, as her minority government lumbered from one crisis to another, despite an economy that avoided a recession after the 2008 global crisis and which had seen 21 years of continuous growth.

Ms Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister, replaced Mr Rudd in a party coup in June 2010. The dumping of Mr Rudd, an elected prime minister, angered many voters who have never forgiven Ms Gillard for the way she became leader.

Ms Gillard defeated Mr Rudd a second time in a leadership vote in February last year, prompting Mr Rudd to promise at the time that he would not challenge and would only take on the leadership again with the overwhelming support of his party.

Mr Rudd said on Thursday he did not have the numbers to win a comprehensive victory over Gillard.

"I'm here to inform you those circumstances do not exist," he said. "This is a difficult day for the Australian Labor party, it is a difficult days for the Australian government, but I take my word seriously. I gave it solemnly in that room after the last ballot, and I will adhere to that word today."

Ms Gillard has failed to arrest a slump in opinion polls, which predict a major defeat in September with Labor losing about 20 seats in the 150-seat Parliament.

Despite the years of economic growth, Ms Gillard's government has failed to win over voters who believe her economic management is flawed.

There is very little difference in economic policies between the government and conservative opposition, but opposition leader Tony Abbott has promised to scrap a 30 per cent tax on coal and iron ore mine profits, and to scrap an unpopular tax on carbon, if his party wins power.

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