A day after her bitter rival Kevin Rudd quit as Foreign Minister, embattled Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Thursday announced that a ballot for the ruling Labor's leadership will be held on Monday and asked her former Cabinet colleague to accept its outcome as final.
"I have decided that at 10:00 am Monday (local time) a ballot for the Labor leadership will be conducted," 50-year-old Gillard told reporters.
er surprise announcement came amid growing speculation that Rudd, who was ousted as Prime Minister in a party coup in 2010, and his supporters were seeking to topple her so that he could regain the country's leadership.
Fifty-four-year-old Rudd, in a dramatic move, announced his resignation in Washington DC yesterday during an official visit there, saying he could no longer work without the support of Gillard.
A "disappointed" Gillard, who ousted Rudd as prime minister in June 2010, said yesterday that he did not inform her in advance that he would resign.
Gillard on Thursday said the squabbling within the party must cease for the sake of the nation. "Australians are rightly sick of this and they want it brought to an end."
She said she expects to win the leadership battle but ruled out a future challenge if she lost, and asked Rudd to make a similar commitment.
"If I do not receive the support of my colleagues I want to make it clear that I will go to the back bench and renounce any leadership ambitions... I anticipate that Kevin Rudd will be a contender in the leadership ballot and I ask him to give the same undertakings that he will go to the back bench and renounce leadership ambitions."
Gillard accused Rudd of "a long-running destabilization campaign" and, referring to damaging leaks against her, said the 2010 election "was sabotaged".
Meanwhile, in a crucial show of support for Rudd, Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the former Prime Minister was best placed to take on opposition leader Tony Abbott at the next election.
"I'm not sure whether or not there will be leadership ballot on Monday. But can I say, should Kevin Rudd choose to run, I will vote for Kevin Rudd as prime minister of Australia," he said.
Junior ministers Kim Carr and Robert McClelland, both of whom were demoted by Gillard, also announced that they would back Rudd.
Other ministers declared their support for Gillard. They included Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, Finance Minister Penny Wong, Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, Assistant Treasurer Mark Arbib and Veterans' Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon.
Earlier, Rudd, while announcing his resignation, attacked Gillard-led government for its poor relations with business and criticised a number of policy decisions made since he lost the prime ministership.
He was ousted as prime minister in a shock party-room coup in June 2010. Gillard, then his deputy, challenged Rudd and went on to take the Prime Ministership unopposed.
Rudd said Gillard could not win the next election and he would make an announcement on his intentions soon.