Australia’s ruling Labor Party backs Julia Gillard over Kevin Rudd in leadership challenge

BRISBANE, Australia: Australia's ruling Labor Party has voted to keep the serving Prime Minister Julia Gillard as its leader, voting down a challenge by former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

Lawmakers resoundingly backed Gillard over Rudd — 71 votes to 31 — according to Australia's ABC News.

Had Rudd won, he would have not only taken over the party leadership, but also the office of Prime Minister, which he previously held from 2007 to 2010.

The challenge by Rudd has dominated media reports for the past week, since Rudd reigned his as Foreign Minister citing a lack of support from Gillard and other high-profile government ministers. 

Rudd was himself deposed by Gillard in a leadership challenge in 2010 and has been viewed as a destabilizing figure in Labor Party and in national politics since.

The decision to retain Gillard in the top job came despite several public opinion polls showing Rudd as by far the more popular choice of Prime Minister.

A Newspoll out Monday showed Rudd as preferred Prime Minister by a margin of 28 percent over Gillard and 34 percent over the Opposition Leader, conservative Tony Abbott, Sky News reported.

However, Rudd — criticized for his autocratic style as Prime Minister and for being vindictive and contemptuous of fellow lawmakers — lacked crucial support within the caucus of his own party. 

After the vote Monday morning, supporters of both politicians called for Labor to unify behind Gillard.

Earlier Monday, Rudd himself vowed not to "initiate" another challenge for the leadership.

"I would not initiate a further challenge against Julia," he told Channel Seven.

He said he would work to "bring people together."

However, the ABC noted, Rudd did not rule out launching another challenge if asked by lawmakers or if a third candidate emerged in coming months.

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