Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister hailed as a feminist icon after a fiery speech against “sexism and misogyny” in politics, was dumped from office by her own party Wednesday.
The country’s first female leader lost a dramatic political gamble by calling a leadership vote in a bid to end internal dissent in her Labor Party, which polls suggest is heading for defeat in imminent elections.
Instead of endorsing her leadership, Labor lawmakers voted for Kevin Rudd – the rival who was himself ousted by Gillard almost exactly three years ago.
Rudd, a former diplomat who speaks Mandarin, won 57 votes against Gillard's 45.
The leadership change followed a series of opinion polls showing Gillard's minority government could lose up to 35 seats at the looming elections, giving the conservative opposition a massive majority in the 150-member parliament, Reuters reported.
Gillard had said that if she lost the vote she would exit politics at the next election, Australia’s Channel 7 news reported.
She formally stood down as prime minister Wednesday and confirmed she would not seek re-election to parliament.
Gillard struggled for approval despite a strong economy and low unemployment that have set Australia apart from other countries in an era of global recession.
However, she enjoyed a period of fame in October after rounding on opposition leader Tony Abbott during a speech in the country’s parliament.
“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man [Abbott],” Gillard said. “If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.”
Her comments won her widespread acclaim overseas, but did little to help her position in Australia even though one dictionary reportedly changed its definition of the word "misogyny" in the wake of the speech.
After Wednesday's defeat, she thanked her party for the “truly humbling” experience of being her country’s first female prime minister, according to a live blog on the web site of Melbourne-based newspaper, The Age.
She also gave a nod to the issue of gender politics in Australia.
"There's been a lot of analysis about the so-called gender wars,” she said, joking that “heaven knows, no one noticed I was a woman until I raised it.”
“The reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my prime minister-ship, nor does it explain nothing about my prime minister-ship,” she said, adding that it was for Australia to “think, in a sophisticated way, about those shades of gray.”
"What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that and I'm proud of that," she said.
Reuters contributed to this report.