Australian PM Gillard seeks to rebuild after vote farce

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard began the task of rebuilding her Labor party's shattered image on Friday after a farcical leadership ballot in which no one stood against her.

So far six politicians who sided with rival Kevin Rudd have been sacked or resigned, with more expected to go in a purge ahead of a cabinet reshuffle just six months out from national elections.

The highest profile casualty, cabinet minister Chris Bowen, fell on his sword on Friday morning while the man who instigated the ballot, former party leader Simon Crean, was fired.

With the conservative opposition vowing to put a motion of no confidence in the government at the next sitting of parliament on May 14 to try to force an early election, Ms Gillard took to the airwaves in an attempt to calm nerves.

She said the message from the failed ballot was that the leadership issue was "over, it's clearly over".

"There was an opportunity, the opportunity wasn't used," she told ABC radio.

"I think political watchers will know that for some period of time there's been an undercurrent in our party and it was dealt with yesterday and brought to an end."

In a dramatic day of political manoeuvring, Ms Gillard called the shock ballot on Thursday as internal party unrest reached fever pitch with Labor badly lagging in opinion polls from which Mr Rudd emerged as the preferred leader.

The ballot came after Mr Crean openly urged a vote to end speculation that he said was "killing" the party.

But former leader Mr Rudd, who was ruthlessly ousted by Ms Gillard in mid-2010, realised he would fall short of the numbers to topple the premier and decided not to stand just minutes before the vote was due.

Ms Gillard retained her position unopposed and said on Friday that she expected more Rudd supporters to resign so that the party could move forward with a clean slate.

"I anticipate there will be a few more people considering their position," she said.

"They will do that. I will also consider the view as to what is best for the government over coming months, for the nation over coming months."

While it was a tactical victory for Ms Gillard, Australian media said the bitter in-fighting was a disaster for the party.

"They look like Keystone Cops and the real test is still to come," The Sydney Morning Herald said.

Australia's Daily Telegraph was more brutal, screaming: "Chicken Kev does his dash with Gillard leading Labor into oblivion," while a more measured Australian Financial Review noted: "Everyone's bloodied in this train wreck."

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