Australia Gets 5th Leader in 8 Years After Rival Ousts PM Abbott

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By Reuters

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will get its fifth prime minister in eight years after the ruling Liberal Party on Monday voted out Tony Abbott following months of speculation and crumbling support from voters.

Malcolm Turnbull, a multi-millionaire former banker and tech entrepreneur and longtime Abbott rival, won a secret party room vote by 54 to 44, Liberal Party whip Scott Buchholz told reporters after the meeting in Canberra.

Tony Abbott speaks during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Monday.SAM MOODY / EPA

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was elected deputy leader of the party which, with junior coalition partner the National Party, won a landslide election in 2013.

Since then, the popularity of the government and Abbott in particular has suffered from a series of perceived policy missteps, destabilizing infighting and leaks.

Malcolm TurnbullLUKAS COCH / EPA

The opposition Labor Party has consistently led opinion polls, while Turnbull has been consistently viewed as preferred prime minister.

Abbott ousted Turnbull as leader of the Liberal Party in 2009.

However, his support for a carbon trading scheme, gay marriage and an Australian republic have made Turnbull unpopular with his party's right wing.

The challenge comes as Australia's $1.5 trillion economy struggles to cope with the end of a once-in-a-century mining boom and just days before a by-election in Western Australia state widely seen as a test of Abbott's leadership.

The challenge to Abbott is the latest sign of political instability in Australia, which has in recent years been convulsed by backroom machinations and party coups that have shaken public and business confidence in government.

Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, elected with a strong mandate in 2007, was deposed by his deputy, Julia Gillard, in 2010 amid the same sort of poll numbers that Abbott is now facing. Gillard was in turn deposed by Rudd ahead of elections won by Abbott in 2013.