Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called a general election for August 21. The country's first female leader says the vote will allow voters to choose their prime minister.
Julia Gillard is facing the toughest fight of her political career. She has been Australia's prime minister for less than a month. She replaced Kevin Rudd, who had lost support following a series of unpopular decisions, including a proposed tax increase on mining industry profits.
The major issues in the campaign are likely to be immigration, the health of the Australian economy and climate change. Recent opinion polls have given Ms. Gillard's governing Labor party a lead over the conservative opposition. But she says she expects the vote to be close.
Ms. Gillard is asking Australians to trust her to manage the economy, and stem a steady flow of asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters.
"Moving forward, of course, means bringing the budget to surplus by 2013, three years ahead of schedule. Moving forwards also means moving forward with stronger protection of our borders and a strong plan that takes away from people smugglers the product that they sell," she said.
The conservative opposition is led by Tony Abbott, another combative politician who once trained to be a priest. He has also promised tougher policies to deter asylum seekers.
So far this year, almost 80 vessels ferrying unauthorized arrivals have been intercepted in Australia's northern seas. The issue of climate change is also likely to feature prominently in the coming weeks.
Mr. Abbott says he too expects a tough campaign. The leader of the opposition told a news conference that Ms. Gillard did not deserve to lead the nation.
"Only a coalition government can end the spin and incompetence which marked the Rudd Gillard government and which has just got worse over the three weeks since the faceless men of the Labor party executed an elected prime minister," he said.
The opposition needs a swing of 17 seats to win the election.
Voting in Australia is compulsory and the country goes to the polls in its first winter election for several decades.