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Australian PM Gillard calls election, but not just yet

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced the date of Australia’s general election, eight months in advance. While the long notice period raised a few eyebrows, Gillard claimed it would help to settle the country.

Gillard made the surprise announcement - setting September 14 as the general election date - in her first major political speech of the year.

While the timing of parliamentary elections is the Australian prime minister's prerogative, there was general surprise that the date was named so far in advance.

Normally, the election date is announced little more than a month ahead of the planned polling date. However, Gillard dismissed fears of a protracted election campaign. She also announced that parliament would be dissolved on August 12.

"I do so not to start the nation's longest election campaign, quite the opposite," Gillard told the National Press Club in Canberra.

"It should be clear to all which are the days of governing and which are the days of campaigning," she said. "Announcing the election date now enables individuals and business, investors and consumers to plan their year."

Opinion polls suggest that the conservative opposition coalition, led by Tony Abbott and his Liberal Party, would sweep to victory if an election were held now. Under Australian laws, governments serve for a period of three years.

Gillard's center-left Labor Party narrowly scraped through a 2010 parliamentary election, only being able to form a minority government. The grouping has a majority of just one seat in the House of Representatives, with support from both independent lawmakers and the Greens.

rc/jr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)