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Australia's Abbott survives leadership challenge

Australian PM Tony Abbott survived a challenge after his ruling Liberal Party voted down a motion to unseat him

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott survived a challenge to his leadership on Monday after his ruling Liberal Party voted down a motion to unseat him after weeks of infighting.

"The Liberal Party has met, we have had a ballot, it was properly conducted. The result is very clear. No [to change of leadership] 61. Yes 39," Philip Ruddock, the chief whip, said on Monday.

The open challenge to Abbott's leadership came as the conservative leader faced slumping polls and a torrent of criticism in recent weeks over policy decisions ranging from his handling of the economy to awarding an Australian knighthood to Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip.

The party's internal wrangling resulted in some MPs calling for the vote last week.

The move aimed to declare vacant the positions of party leader and deputy leader — currently occupied by Abbott and Deputy Prime Minister Julie Bishop.

If it had succeeded, the party room, or Liberal Party members of both houses of parliament, could have voted for new candidates for the jobs.

Abbott, who had described the call for a leadership vote as a "very chastening experience," vowed ahead of the poll to be more consultative in his approach.

If Abbott had been ousted, Australia would have had its sixth prime minister in eight years.

The challenge to Abbott's leadership — a "spill motion" that declares the party leadership open to any candidates in a ballot — was triggered by disgruntled government lawmakers last week and was to be discussed Tuesday at the year's first scheduled Liberal Party meeting.

But Abbott on Sunday arranged a special meeting for Monday morning, leaving some lawmakers scrambling to book earlier flights to Canberra, the national capital, and giving his opponents less time to garner support to topple him.

The internal tussle came as an opinion poll published in The Australian newspaper on Monday showed that Abbott's popularity had reached its lowest point in his five years as party leader.

The poll found that only 24 percent of respondents were satisfied with Abbott's performance while 68 percent were dissatisfied.

Abbott's popularity lags far behind Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Bishop. Both were touted as potential leadership contenders.

Since being elected in September 2013, the Abbott government has sealed free trade deals with China, South Korea and Japan. It also killed off controversial carbon and mining taxes and sharply reduced the number of asylum-seeker boats arriving in Australia.

The government announced savings across the board to rein in a growing budget deficit, but critics have slammed measures to cut health and education spending while tightening welfare as too harsh.

Wire services


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