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Australians voted for a new administration, denying incumbent John Howard a fifth term as prime minister, choosing Kevin Rudd, leader of the liberal Labor party, to head the nation.
The election results mark a change in direction for Australia after 11 years of conservative leadership. Several reports described the outcome as a “humiliating” defeat for Mr. Howard, who even failed to win in his own constituency.
Mr. Howard was a staunch U.S. ally, sending Australian troops to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Rudd has promised to pull Australia’s troops out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal. He has also promised to quickly sign the Kyoto Protocol, leaving the United States as the only industrialized country that has not signed it.
Australia is the latest nation that supported the war in Iraq to undergo a political shift. Earlier in 2007, Poland’s new prime minister also made statements regarding withdrawal.
As reported by the Associated Press, Mr. Rudd, a Chinese-speaking former diplomat, said in his victory speech, “Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward. To plan for the future, to prepare for the future, to embrace the future and together as Australians to unite and write a new page in our nation’s history.”
Mr. Rudd has stated that global warming will be his administration’s top priority, but is otherwise unlikely to significantly alter the alliance with the U.S., and/or growing economic and political links with Asia.
Based on his diplomatic experience, Australia’s new prime minister is expected to take a more cautious and non-confrontational approach in foreign policy.