THERE may be an empty chair in the space reserved for Australia at the G20 meeting in Canada today. While Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was en route for this meeting he lost the leadership of his party to his deputy Julia Gillard in a vote by senior Labor party members. This kind of thing used to happen frequently among African leaders but it is a relative rarity in older democracies.
At the beginning of this year, Rudd was still in the commanding position as Prime Minister which gave him a handsome victory over the long-serving right-wing prime ministers John Howard in 2007. But with the next election due later this year Mr Rudd ran into a series of misjudgements and errors that led his ratings to fall precipitately and polls to show that he might very well not win a second on term of office. Perhaps because of the darker economic situation Mr Rudd's liberally-inclined policies seemed to lose their appeal. Among these were several related to his strong support for action on climate-change, including an ambitious free home-insulation scheme, but his earlier insistence on apologising to disadvantaged Aborigines may also have had a delayed effect. Mr Rudd appeared to be shattered when it became clear that he was in danger of losing his job but Julia Gillard, born in Wales, looked more like a winner to the party managers.