Australia PM Malcolm Turnbull′s troubled leadership hangs in balance | News | DW | 23.08.2018
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Australia PM Malcolm Turnbull's troubled leadership hangs in balance

Australia's embattled prime minister is refusing to step down amid mounting pressure from senior ministers. Malcolm Turnbull says he'll hold another leadership vote only if his opponents gather enough signatures.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's besieged leadership faced renewed threats on Thursday, after several Liberal Party lawmakers resigned in protest over his premiership.

Turnbull said he would not resign on Thursday but would allow a second leadership vote on Friday if a petition calling for it received enough signatures from the party.

He went on to add that he would step down if motions for a second contest passed. That would likely make way for Treasurer Scott Morrison to challenge former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. Local media reports said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop would also contest for the top job.

Read more:  Australia's Malcolm Turnbull: a 'liberal' Liberal?

Australian lawmaker Peter Dutton (picture-alliance/dpa/M.A. Pushpa Kumara)

Peter Dutton is perhaps best known for his hardline positions, particularly when it comes to immigration

The prime minister's decision came after Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, once a top Turnbull ally, offered to leave his post.

"It's with great sadness and a heavy heart that we went to see the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon to advise him that in our judgment he no longer enjoyed the support of the majority of members in the Liberal Party party room," Cormann told reporters in Canberra on Thursday. "And that it was in the best interests of the Liberal Party to help manage an orderly transition to a new leader."

Jobs and Innovation Minister Michaelia Cash and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield also resigned from the government and openly backed former Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. 

The government adjourned the lower house on Thursday afternoon, suggesting that Turnbull's priorities lay with handling the latest party mutiny. 

Read moreAustralian PM Abbott ousted in bitter leadership battle

Dutton demands second leadership contest

Dutton said he called Turnbull to demand a second leadership vote.

The prime minister won a leadership contest just last Tuesday, defeating Dutton by 48 votes to 35. However, Dutton told Turnbull it was clear he had now lost the support from a majority of party members.

"Earlier this morning I called the prime minister to advise him that it was my judgment that the majority of the party room no longer supported his leadership," Dutton said in a brief statement outside Parliament House.  "As such, I asked him to convene a meeting of the Liberal Party at which I would challenge for the leadership of the parliamentary Liberal Party."

Dutton, who is perhaps best known for his hard-line stance on immigration, must produce a petition signed by a majority of party members to force a leadership contest. Such a petition was being compiled, according to local media, although it remained unclear how many signatures he had gathered.

Turnbull's office had yet to respond publicly to Dutton's renewed leadership challenge or the latest spate of resignations.

No Australian prime minister has seen through their full three-year term since John Howard's 11-year leadership came to an end in 2007. All have been ousted by their own party amid poor showing in opinion polls.

"We have quite considerable ideological cleavages within both of our major parties, but it's a particular problem in the Liberal Party at the moment," Jill Sheppard, a political scientist at the Australian National University in Canberra, told DW. "This split between progressives and conservatives means that no leader in the last 10 years has really been able to bridge that gap."

Opposition fails to halt Dutton leadership bid

In a frantic Thursday morning, Australia's opposition parties lost a parliament vote that would have forced a court to determine whether Dutton is eligible for the premiership. 

Opposition MPs claimed that Dutton's family's ownership of two child-care centers that received public funding breached a constitutional ban on lawmakers having a pecuniary interest in an agreement with the public service. 

The vote to refer Dutton to Australia's High Court was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives by 69 votes to 68.

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dm/rc (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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