Howard’s Final Humiliation: Out Of Parliament As Well As Government

Howard's final humiliation: Out of Parliament as well as government

The Associated Press
Published: November 24, 2007

SYDNEY, Australia: Defeated Australia Prime Minister John Howard on Sunday looked likely to have suffered the final humiliation of being kicked out of Parliament as well as losing government.

Official counting showed Howard trailing his Labor Party rival Maxine McKew by narrow margin with more than 75 percent of ballots counted in the Sydney suburban district of Bennelong, and Howard said he did not expect to win.

“Although it is still officially in doubt, it is very likely to be the case that I will no longer be the member for Bennelong,” Howard said in a speech late Saturday conceding defeat nationally to Labor leader Kevin Rudd.

The result is a measure of the strength of the dissatisfaction with Howard, Australia's second-longest service leader who has been the member for Bennelong for 33 years.

He would be just the second sitting prime minister to lose his seat in Parliament, following the otherwise undistinguished Stanley Bruce in 1929.

Howard's fate hangs on a handful of handful of absentee ballots and preferences from minor parties, and may not be known for several days.

McKew, a charismatic former television journalist recruited to oust the 68-year-old leader, declined to claim victory on Saturday, but said voters had sent a strong signal that no politician should become complacent.

“Bennelong will never, ever be taken for granted again,” she said.

Formerly a safe district for Howard's Liberal Party, Bennelong has seen its loyalties gradually shift over the years as immigration and boundary moves changed the demographics.

Once a typical cross-section of Anglo-Saxon Australia, Bennelong is now one of the country's most ethnically diverse districts a mix of Presbyterian churches, Indian supermarkets and Vietnamese noodle houses.

Just 56 percent of Bennelong residents were born in Australia, compared to the national average of 71 percent, official statistics show. A language other than English is spoken in more than two-thirds of Bennelong homes.

Immigrants in Australia are generally Labor voters.

At a community center in Bennelong that usually serves as a South Korean tae kwon do academy, a Scottish highlands dancing club and an Indonesian church group, Kenya-born Brendan Mudanya, 32, said he was voting against Howard's Liberal party more as a protest than an endorsement of Labor.

“I just felt the Liberal government wasn't honest,” said Mudanya. “A lot of the leadership seemed quite arrogant, almost as if they took Australians for granted.”

Wendy Wang, 40, a recent immigrant from Beijing who runs a cleaning service, said she voted for Labor because she wanted a fresher face in government.

“I want someone younger,” said Wang.

Rudd, 50, won a sweeping victory over Howard, 68, and promised a new leadership style that includes greater focus on combatting climate change.

Howard is now expected to go quietly from the political scene he had dominated for a dozen years. He declined to speak to reporters Sunday as he took his customary early-morning walk along the Sydney Harbor foreshore, other than to answer “I'm fine thanks,” when asked how he felt.

Some people applauded as he passed by in an apparent signal of farewell and appreciation for his public service.