Australian Labor Party sweeps Bush supporter Howard from office

New PM promises to withdraw from Iraq, sign Kyoto climate protocol and transform nation
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The Independent Online

John Howard was swept from power in Australia yesterday after 11 years in office, and appeared almost certain to lose his own seat, only the second Prime Minister in the country's history to be rejected by his own constituents.

Mr Howard looked close to tears last night as he conceded defeat to the Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, after a decisive swing that looks likely to give Labor a comfortable majority in the 150-seat parliament.

In his own constituency of Bennelong, in north-west Sydney, which he had held for nearly 34 years, Mr Howard was set to be ousted by a former television journalist, Maxine McKew. While postal votes, which have yet to be counted, could influence the result his way, he acknowledged last night that Bennelong appeared to have gone to Labor for the first time ever.

Mr Rudd paid tribute to Mr Howard, the West's most enduring conservative leader and the last of George Bush's loyal allies to fall. The new Prime Minister has pledged to withdraw Australian combat troops from Iraq and to sign the Kyoto Protocol on reducing carbon emissions before a key climate change conference opens in Bali next week – leaving the US the only developed nation still refusing to do so.

For Mr Howard, 68, the nation's second longest-serving leader, the result was a humiliating end to his quest for a fifth term in office. Instead of going down in the history books for his longevity, he is likely to be recalled in the same breath as Stanley Melbourne Bruce, the only other Prime Minister to lose his own seat, as long ago as 1929.

With his wife, Janette, widely regarded as the power behind the throne, whispering his lines to him, a pink-faced Mr Howard congratulated Labor on "a very emphatic victory". Twice he declared that he was bequeathing to Mr Rudd "a nation that is stronger and prouder and more prosperous than it was 11 and a half years ago". His voice faltering as he addressed his Liberal Party faithful, he said: "It has been an immense privilege every day of my life... to have been Prime Minister of this beautiful country. The Australian people are the greatest people on earth."

Mr Rudd, a 50-year-old former diplomat who has been an MP for only nine years and party leader for just over 12 months, told a Labor Party gathering in his home town of Brisbane: "Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forwards... and write a new page in our nation's history."

With the country enjoying economic prosperity, Mr Rudd's success was partly attributable to voters' desire for a new face. Issues such as the war in Iraq, Mr Howard's delay in addressing climate change, and his introduction of unpopular workplace reforms also played a part. Mr Rudd's deputy, Julia Gillard, will be Australia's first female Deputy Prime Minister.

For Labor, which had languished in the wilderness for more than a decade, yesterday's result was one of the greatest in the party's history. This is only the third time since the Second World War that it has managed to wrest government away from the Liberals. And Ms McKew, a former current affairs presenter, is likely to go down in party annals as a Labor hero.

With boundary changes transforming Bennelong into a marginal seat, Ms McKew knocked on 8,000 doors while Mr Howard was travelling around the country trying to shore up his majority. Wreathed in smiles, she said: "This has been an amazing night, a wonderful night for Labor and a fabulous transforming moment for the country."

Iraq war coalition: Four down, one to go

With John Howard's defeat, what remains of the coalition that backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq? george bush alone is still in office. His poll ratings are the lowest for any President since polling began.

Tony Blair, trust in him eroded by Iraq, finally handed over to Gordon Brown in June. He is now Middle East peace envoy.

Jose Maria Aznar's Partido Popular lost in March 2004 to the Socialists, who promptly pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq. He runs a think tank and sits on the board of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

Silvio Berlusconi of Italy lost narrowly to Romano Prodi in 2006. He remains opposition leader. Italian troops have left Iraq. RW