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Australian ruling party to choose new prime minister

Friday August 24, 2018

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. The beleaguered prime minister warned he will quit Parliament on Friday if his disgruntled party continues to try to oust him, forcing a by-election that could cost the government its single-seat majority or push his successor into immediately calling general elections. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia appears set to get its sixth change of prime minister in 11 years on Friday in a ballot of government lawmakers which would continue an era of extraordinary political instability.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is among the favorites and would be Australia's second female prime minister.

Other favorites include Treasurer Scott Morrison and the only declared challenger Peter Dutton, a former Cabinet minister.

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Beleaguered Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull demanded the names of lawmakers in the conservative Liberal Party who wanted him to go before he would allow them to choose a new prime minister at a meeting at Parliament House on Friday. The names would prove a majority of his government had abandoned him.

Turnbull tweeted half an hour before the meeting was due to start on Friday that Dutton had been provided him with the 43 signatures.

The meeting started 20 minutes late after the signatures were verified.

Turnbull would then become the fourth prime minister to be dumped by his or her own party before serving a full three-year term since the revolving door to the prime minister's office started in 2010. The trend is universally hated by Australians.

"Australians will be rightly appalled by what they're witnessing," Turnbull said on Thursday in announcing the meeting that would end his career.

Public anger became apparent overnight with windows broken at the Brisbane office of Dutton, Turnbull's main rival in his government.

Dutton has told the prime minister that a majority of Liberal Party lawmakers — at least 43 — don't support his leadership. But Dutton's supporters on Thursday could not find 43 lawmakers prepared to sign their names to a petition demanding a leadership ballot.

An explanation could be that some lawmakers fear they will be punished by voters if they put their names to dumping Turnbull. The ballot to choose a prime minister is secret, so lawmakers don't have to declare which candidate they voted for. Many later lie that they backed the winner.

Support for ousting Turnbull might also have waned because he warned Thursday he would quit politics rather than ask his party again for its support in a ballot. His resignation from Parliament would force a by-election that could cost the government its single-seat majority. The resignation could also push his successor into immediately calling general elections.

The party's federal executive had intervened, telling a defiant Turnbull but that the state branches unanimously wanted the leadership crisis resolved on Friday.

Some lawmakers who were against the change of prime minister said they had agreed to sign the petition in a bid to end the impasse.

"I am being pressured — beyond any comprehension — I am being pressured to put my name on that list so it can bring the party room to a meeting," staunch Turnbull supporter Scott Buchholz said on Friday.

Turnbull had defeated Dutton 48-35 in a surprise vote on Tuesday. Turnbull initiated the ballot in the hope of ending speculation that his government had lost faith in him in the face of poor opinion polling. Several ministers have since resigned and told him that most of the government wanted a new leader.

Opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten told Parliament on Thursday it was evidence that "Australia no longer has a functioning government."

"The Liberal Party, whatever it does today and tomorrow, is irreparably split," Shorten said.


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