Australia’s latest political crisis escalated Thursday with the ruling Liberal Party shutting down Parliament after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lost the support of a key member of his Cabinet, paving the way for a second challenge to his leadership of the party.
Turnbull told reporters in Canberra that he will convene a party meeting Friday if he receives a petition signed by at least 43 Liberal Party lawmakers, but said he would not put his name in consideration if they demanded a second vote, and even threatened to quit Parliament.
Turnbull survived a challenge to his leadership of the conservative party Tuesday, defeating then-Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton by a vote of 48-35. The prime minister called the vote the day after a revolt by the party’s hard-line conservatives forced him to abandon plans to legalize the nation’s targeted limits of greenhouse gas emissions.
Turnbull denounced Dutton and his allies of using “a process of intimidation” to try and pull the Liberals even further to the right. He said the faction has “persuaded people that the only way to stop the insurgency is to give in to it. I have never given in to bullies.”
Earlier Thursday, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann announced that he and two other senior ministers told Turnbull that he had lost support of a majority of members in the conservative party, and that a second leadership vote must be held.
“I can’t ignore reality,” Cormann said.
Dutton resigned his post after losing Tuesday’s party vote, but he told a Melbourne radio station Wednesday that he is seeking support from his colleagues to take on the embattled Turnbull a second time.
Dutton eligibility questioned
But Dutton has come under a cloud over revelations that he has financial interests in childcare centers that receive government funding, a possible violation of Australia’s constitution that bans such practices.
In a further twist, Australian news outlets are reporting that Treasurer Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop are also considering running for the party leadership if a second vote is called.
The challenge to Turnbull’s leadership comes as recent voter opinion surveys show the Liberal Party lagging far behind the opposition Labor Party ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for next May.
The Liberal Party’s open turmoil is just the latest chapter in a period of unusual political instability in Australia since former Prime Minister John Howard left office in 2007 after 11 uninterrupted years. The country has since gone through six prime ministers, neither of whom have served a full three-year term, thanks to intraparty squabbles as power changed hands between the Liberals and Labor, including two stints in power for Labor’s Kevin Rudd.
Turnbull himself toppled Tony Abbott for the party leadership and the prime minister’s post in a similar challenge in 2015.