Australians have begun voting in a general election expected to bring an end to the political career of the country’s longest-serving prime minister, John Howard. Polls put the opposition Labour ahead. Campaigning has been dominated by issues such as the war in Iraq and the environment. They are both areas in which 68-year-old Howard is struggling. His government refused to sign the Kyoto treaty on climate change.
And while his strong stance on security and support for the US in Iraq and Afghanistan was a vote-winner before, there are signs public opinion is shifting. While Howard is seeking a fifth term, his main rival, Labour’s Kevin Rudd, is running for the first time.
The 50-year-old offers a generational change and claims Howard is too old and tired to carry on. The former diplomat is promising to sign Kyoto and pull troops out of Iraq. Labour needs an extra 16 seats if it is to end the conservative Liberals’ 11 years in power.
As for Howard, he is fighting for survival. Even if his coalition manages to retain its majority, his seat in Sydney has become one of the key marginals on which the whole election could turn.