Former Cabinet Minister Malcolm Turnbull will become Australia’s sixth prime minister in eight years after defeating Tony Abbott in a ballot of Liberal Party lawmakers on Monday.
Turnbull won by 54 votes to 44, hours after condemning Abbott’s economic management and challenging him for the leadership of the governing party. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will remain deputy leader after winning a separate ballot against Defense Minister Kevin Andrews.
The former investment banker pledged to lead a government that “explains the great challenges and opportunities we face” in a “way that the Australian people can understand.” He said he expected the parliament to serve a full term, rather than calling an early election.
Turnbull, 60, has a window to halt a slide in the government’s popularity caused by political missteps and Abbott’s combative leadership style. Faced with the likely departure of senior ministers loyal to Abbott, Turnbull needs to move quickly to restore unity if he’s to turn around the party’s fortunes ahead of an election due next year.
“This gives the government the possibility of a fresh start and a way to end its stagnation,” said John Warhurst, a political analyst at the Australian National University in Canberra. “Turnbull still faces a huge challenge to heal what’s obviously a split party and gain enough momentum to win the next election.”
Market reaction after the announcement was relatively muted. The Australian dollar rose on the news Turnbull had won the ballot but quickly gave back those gains and traded little changed at 71.20 U.S. cents at 10:12 p.m.
Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition government has trailed the main opposition Labor party in opinion polls for months. Unflagged spending cuts in his first budget in May 2014 angered voters, while his decision to bestow a knighthood on Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip in January was ridiculed and exacerbated a perception that he’s out of touch with public opinion.