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Australia: Labor Wins Big, Howard Steps Gown

Labor has been out of power for more than a decade, and few in Rudd’s team — including him — has any government experience at federal level. His team includes a former rock star — Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett — a television journalist and former union officials.

Conservative Prime Minister John Howard suffered a humiliating defeat Saturday at the hands of the left-leaning opposition, whose leader has promised to immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and withdraw Australia’s combat troops from Iraq.

 Labor Party head Kevin Rudd’s pledges on global warming and Iraq move Australia sharply away from policies that had made Howard one of President Bush’s staunchest allies.

Rudd has named global warming as his top priority, and his signing of the Kyoto Protocol will leave the U.S. as the only industrialized country not to have joined it.

Rudd said he would withdraw Australia’s 550 combat troops from Iraq, leaving twice that number in mostly security roles. Howard had said all the troops will stay as long as needed.

Official figures from the Australian Electoral Commission showed Labor far in front after more than 70 percent of the ballots had been counted — with 53 percent of the vote compared to 46.7 percent for Howard’s coalition.

Using those figures, an Australian Broadcasting Corp. analysis showed that Labor would get at least 81 places in the 150-seat lower house of Parliament — a clear majority.

It was an embarrassing end to the career of Howard, Australia’s second-longest serving leader.

As little as a year ago, Howard had appeared almost unassailable. But on Saturday he was in real danger of becoming only the second sitting prime minister in 106 years of federal government to lose his own seat in Parliament.

Howard took full blame for the drubbing handed to his center-right coalition.

“I accept full responsibility for the Liberal Party campaign, and I therefore accept full responsibility for the coalition’s defeat in this election campaign,” Howard said in his concession speech in Sydney.

A new government is unlikely to mean a fundamental change in Australia’s close alliance with the United States — its most important security partner — or its growing economic and political ties with Asia.



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