Australian prime minister Julia Gillard has been ousted by her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, in a vote of party MPs hoping to avoid a huge defeat in upcoming elections.
The ballot took place three years after Ms Gillard removed Mr Rudd in a similar internal government showdown to become the country's first female prime minister. She lacked Mr Rudd's charisma, and although many Labour MPs preferred her style, her deepening unpopularity among voters compelled a majority to seek a change ahead of elections that are set for Sepember but could be held in August.
The 57-to-45 vote makes Mr Rudd leader of the party. Governor-General Quentin Bryce could make him prime minister within a day, but Mr Rudd will have to demonstrate that he can command a majority in the House of Representatives.
Labour depends on independents and a minor party for its fragile ruling coalition, but Mr Rudd appeared capable of retaining it after two independent lawmaker who did not back Ms Gillard's government said they would support his.
Mr Rudd gave no indication of new policy directions or when he expected Australians would go to the polls. "In 2007, the Australian people elected me to be their prime minister and that is a task I resume today with humility, with honor and with an important sense of energy and purpose," he said. He paid tribute to Ms Gillard: "She is a woman of extraordinary intelligence, of great strength and great energy. She has been a remarkable reformer."
The party ballot ends a bitter rivalry between Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd that helped create an atmosphere of chaos and disunity. Ms Gillard had survived two previous attempts by Mr Rudd to take over.
Ms Gillard had vowed to quit parliament at the next election if she lost, and said after the vote that she would fulfill that pledge. She said she was proud of her government's achievements, including the introduction of an unpopular carbon tax paid by the biggest industrial polluters.
Ms Gillard had been dogged by her pre-election promise never to introduce such a tax. The Greens party, which supported her government, blamed sexism for much of the public hostility she endured. She also hit back at critics who accused her of playing the gender card. Because of her tenure, she said, "It will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that. And I'm proud of that."
Even with Mr Rudd in control, polls suggest that Labour would still be defeated by the conservative opposition. But if that happens, Labour hope their losses will be smaller under Mr Rudd than they would have been under Ms Gillard.
Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd are in many ways political opposites.Mr Rudd has a reputation for being a masterful campaigner, but he disappointed as an administrator after taking Labour to a resounding victory in 2007. Ms Gillard proved calmer, more efficient and more popular with lawmakers, but she generated extraordinary animosity among voters, partly because she had ousted the prime minister they had elected during his first three-year term.