Julia Gillard will become Australia's first elected female prime minister if her governing Labor Party wins Saturday's federal election. Throughout the campaign, Prime Minister Gillard has faced criticism for the ouster of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, just two months ago.
Like many Australians, Julia Gillard was born overseas. She moved to the Australian city of Adelaide from Wales with her family when she was four. As a child, the prime minister suffered from a serious lung condition and her doctors advised her parents to relocate to a warmer climate.
Ms. Gillard worked for a law firm after leaving the university, and then moved into politics, where she won a seat in Australia's federal parliament in 1998.
The 49-year-old leader is described as tough and determined, attributes she has needed to succeed in the uncompromising, male-dominated world of Australian politics.
Ms. Gillard puts her rise down to the hard-working values her family instilled.
"When my parents migrated to this country they did not come asking for a free ride, they came seeking a fair go and they found it," Gillard said. "They found it and they worked hard for it. When we first came to this country times were tough and Dad had to knock on many doors to get a job but he got that first job and then he took other jobs to work hard for our family."
Ms. Gillard is an unmarried atheist, and her lack of religious faith has attracted criticism in Australia, a country with strong Catholic and Anglican traditions.
However, one of her biggest fights is to reassure voters of her integrity following a party coup that ousted her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, in June. Mr. Rudd's popularity in the opinion polls had tumbled and Ms. Gillard, supported by other senior Labor Party politicians, made her move to take over as prime minister.
The party remains fearful of a protest vote Saturday over the way Mr. Rudd was pushed out.
Labor backers, however, hope Ms. Gillard's calm authority will be enough to convince voters to give the party another three-year term in office. Opinion polls suggest the race against the conservative opposition, led by Tony Abbott, is extremely tight.
The economy and immigration have been key components in the election campaign. But several global issues, including Australia's military future in Afghanistan, relations with China and climate change, have barely registered.
As the campaign enters its finals hours, Ms Gillard says Saturday's poll will be "a real cliff-hanger."