Julia Gillard has become Australia's first woman prime minister, a singular achievement diminished by the manner of her accession.
In banana republics, coups d'état often occur when the leader is out of the country. In Australia, the conspirators opted not to wait a day. Instead, Kevin Rudd was dispatched by his deputy the day before he was to depart for the G20 meeting in Toronto.
It is a peculiarity of parliamentary democracies that leaders can take up the reins of power without any direct involvement by a country's voters. Britain's recently defeated Gordon Brown never did win an election as leader, yet served three years as prime minister. But Mr. Brown, at least, carried the nomination of his party's membership, not the case with Ms. Gillard, who won the job in a vote of the Labor Party caucus.
The swiftness and ruthlessness with which Mr. Rudd was dispatched has surprised many, not least of them Mr. Rudd, who the night before his ouster was promising a fight to the finish. For her part, Ms. Gillard had been playing the dutiful deputy and professing her undying admiration. Mr. Rudd had won a landslide election just two and a half years ago. He benefited from former prime minister John Howard's legacy of fiscal rectitude. His poll ratings were respectable as recently as the start of the year, when they began to slide over several policy reversals, and a punitive tax on the mining sector. There were also complaints about his style. He was criticized for being too controlling, and a lone wolf, but such characteristics need not be fatal to a leader, as illustrated by Stephen Harper.
But with an election on the horizon, it became a question of survival for Labor. A new leader, a woman politician, someone who can claim credit for the popular polices of Labor's first two years, and at the time distance herself from the mistakes of Mr. Rudd, many be just what's needed to win Labor a second election. It may not be democratic by its means, but in its end.
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