Kevin Rudd has taken dramatic revenge against Julia Gillard, regaining the Australian premiership that she took from him almost exactly three years ago to the day.
But his return as prime minister may be short-lived, as he takes over just months ahead of a general election that polls suggest his party will lose badly.
Rudd had come to power in 2007 in a landslide victory for his Labor Party, and his green agenda was popular.
With a hard-working, businesslike manner, “24-7 Kevin” was less popular with political colleagues, who accused him of an authoritarian approach.
Gillard deposed him as Labor leader in 2010 in a successful leadership challenge. Australia weathered the global financial crisis well, but problems with stimulus programs, his wavering on a carbon trading scheme and failure to get support for a mining tax had dented Rudd’s popularity.
Gillard was seen as a more personable character with a more consensus-driven approach. But, ironically, the public never warmed to her, instead seeing her as having deposed a broadly popular prime minister to become leader of a fractious party.
She stayed prime minister after a general election the same year, but Labor had to bargain with a hung parliament to stay in power.
Rudd’s return to the helm is unlikely to undo his party’s problems. The party’s image has been dented by aggressive, sometimes sexist hounding of Gillard, whose achievements many say other leaders would be given more credit for. But the party’s main problem is its lack of cohesion. Rudd’s return to power underlines that problem, rather than addresses it.
Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbot was quick to press that point.
“In 2007 you voted for Kevin and got Julia. In 2010 you voted for Julia and got Kevin. If you vote for the Labor Party in 2013, who knows who you’ll end up with?” he said.
The consensus among observers seems to be that Rudd faces an uphill battle in finding a good response to such doubts.
By Paul Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org