On the home ground, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has just defeated a leadership spill motion. In India, loss of Modi magic in Delhi as Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP wrenches the votes once again. Read on… by Team TIW & agencies
These are two separate stories but there is certain common refrain to the story of Tony Abbott and Arvind Kejriwal. Both have resurfaced to stake their claims this week. Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia, has just survived a confidence spill motion and Kejriwal, the leader of Aam Aadmi Party (common man’s party) returns as the chief minister of Delhi for the second time after a landslide election victory. In the murky world of politics, there are surprises too as the stories of these two maverick leaders show.
Tony Abbott: A Survivor?
He has been dubbed a misogynist, sexist, homophobic, bully et al. Tony Abbott came to power in September 2013 less on the strength of his popularity but more on the despair of an electorate who were tired of Labor rule which had changed its leader twice in six years. Commentators in the media have called him too right wing to ever become the Prime Minister. And former Prime Minister Julia Gillard had expressed the apprehension that “an Abbott government would banish women’s voices from our political life.” Abbott was too many things to many people. Or so it seemed.
In the one year of completion of office last September, Abbott seemed to have given Australia the leadership it needed. But the rumblings began soon after the announcement of his government’s first budget in May and a series of policy backflips. The Sydney Morning Herald quoting the analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Office said the Abbott government’s budget deficit could blow out by billions of dollars more than already expected.
Poor poll results and Liberal’s loss in recent Victorian and Queensland state elections and Abbott’s decision to award an Australian knighthood to 93-year-old Prince Philip, without consulting fellow party members, also drew severe criticism.
Abbott decorated the Duke of Edinburgh because “the monarchy has been an important part of Australia’s life since 1788”, when British ships reached Australian shores for the first time.
Abbott said he was pleased that Queen Elizabeth II, the head of state of Australia, has accepted the designations of Prince Philip and the former chief of the Australian Armed Forces, Angus Houston, as being recognised this year.
Once the decision was made public, criticism appeared on social network sites describing the decision as “idiotic, irrelevant and a massive waste of the money raised from taxes” or a “joke at the expense of Australians” since the knighthood title has been bestowed on someone who was already an aristocrat.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha. He has a great interest in Australia”, “The world is crazy” or “Seven years ago we apologised to indigenous Australians and today we knighted Prince Philip. What happened?” read numerous comments posted on Twitter referring to the national apology made to the aborigines for abuses committed against them.
Abbott shrugged off the criticism, saying that “Social media is like electronic graffiti”, and generally very abusive, according to the news network ABC.
“I think that in the media, you make a big mistake to pay too much attention to social media. You wouldn’t report what’s sprayed up on the walls of buildings and look, as I said, social media has its place, but it’s anonymous,” said Abbott.
On February 6, Western Australian (WA) Liberal MP Luke Simpkins declared a motion to spill the leadership position of the Liberal party at the party room meeting on Feb 10. Another WA Liberal MP (member of parliament) Don Randall seconded the motion.
It was clear that Abbott’s future had become the subject of increased pressure from backbenchers in the last fortnight as poor polling figures and the results of the Queensland state election heaped more pressure on the embattled prime minister.
Although reports claimed deputy party leader Julie Bishop might challenge Abbott for his role as the country’s leader, those suggestions were quashed when he revealed she would campaign alongside him to defeat the leadership spill motion.
On Sunday February 8, Abbott announced that he will move the special Liberal party room meeting the next day on Monday instead of the previously scheduled meeting Tuesday (February 10) to deal with the leadership spill motion as soon as possible.
“On reflection, and after talking to my colleagues, I have decided that the best thing we can do is deal with the spill motion as quickly as possible and put it behind us,” he said.
“Accordingly, I have asked the Whip, Philip Ruddock, to convene a Party Room meeting at 9 a.m. Monday morning to deal with this matter. The last thing Australia needs right now is instability and uncertainty,” Abbott said at a brief press conference.
Abbott confessed that the government was facing tough times but said, “The last thing you want to do is to make your difficulties worse.”
“We were elected in 2013 because the Australian people rejected chaos and we are not going to take them back to that chaos,” he said.
Abbott also claimed to have full support of his deputy, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Canberra Times reported.
“Julie’s a friend of mine and my deputy, she’s been a terrific deputy, she’s been a terrific minister,” Abbott said.
“I believe I have her full support and I certainly look forward to continuing to have that.”
After three federal MPs insisted Abbott did not have their full backing earlier in the week, the prime minister’s statement led to a flurry of support from Liberal party members.
On February 9, all eyes were on Canberra when the ruling Liberal Party voted to defeat a leadership spill motion, thereby retaining Abbott in his role as the party leader and the country’s prime minister.
But the margin of the party-room vote — 61-39 — was not emphatic enough to ensure Abbott’s long-term future as prime minister.
Given that none of Abbott’s colleagues had put their name forward as a leadership candidate, the vote effectively meant 39 Liberal Party MPs voted for no particular individual, just as a protest against the prime minister’s embattled leadership.
Many commentators and political pundits felt Abbott needed a vote in the high 40s if he was to safely see off this internal party-room challenge to his leadership.
Soon after the spill motion, Abbott in a televised speech said he had no intention to quit despite a decline in his popularity and growing questions about his leadership.
“The Liberal Party has dealt with the spill motion and now this matter is behind us. We are absolutely determined to work for you, the people, who elected us. We want to end the disunity and the uncertainty which destroyed two Labor governments, and give you the good government that you deserve.
“We think that when you elect a government, when you elect a prime minister, you deserve to keep that government and that prime minister until you have a chance to change your mind. So, the focus now is once more on jobs, families, a stronger economy and a secure nation.
“At heart, we are a highly successful country, justifiably proud of what we’ve achieved. In essence, we are a strong economy with so much creativity and dynamism, and the challenge for government is to work with you, not against you. I love this country, and I will do my best to help our country to succeed,” the Prime Minister said.
According to the Economist, “The drama reflects a growing pattern among Australian politicians from both sides to move against leaders when poor polling seems to threaten electoral oblivion.” Abbott called it a “near death experience”. How Abbott regains trust the second time round now remains to be seen.