CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Saturday that she is "incredibly confident" of leading her Labor Party to victory in elections next year, even as new opinion polls showed the public preferred party rival Kevin Rudd as Australia's leader.
Gillard has called a leadership vote of the 103 Labor lawmakers in Parliament House on Monday in a bid to end a bitter power struggle with Rudd. Rudd was prime minister and Gillard was his deputy when she seized power in 2010 in a snap leadership challenge that shocked the nation and has left the center-left party deeply divided.
Rudd dramatically quit as foreign minister while on government business in Washington on Wednesday, prompting Gillard to call the leadership vote, and is the clear underdog in Monday's secret ballot. Far more Labor lawmakers have spoken out publicly in support of Gillard than for Rudd ahead of the vote — an extraordinarily vicious contest that will leave the party diminished in voters' eyes regardless of the outcome.
But undecided lawmakers may be swayed by three reputable opinion polls published in newspapers on Saturday showing that Australians prefer Rudd as prime minister over Gillard.
Labor's slide in opinion polls triggered the coup against Rudd in 2010, and the party's popularity has plunged to new depths under Gillard, who struggles to maintain a rare minority government with the support of two independent lawmakers and a legislator from the minor Greens party.
Gillard used a Labor regional conference on Saturday to dismiss as "lazy talk" speculation of a Labor defeat in 2013 elections.
"I am incredibly confident about our prospects of success when we present at the next election," she told the conference delegates.
"I can be so confident of that because I'm so confident of our policies and plans," she said.
She later told reporters that she remained confident of attracting strong support in Monday's ballot, despite Transport Minister Anthony Albanese becoming the most senior government figure to announce his support for Rudd.
During a tearful news conference Saturday, Albanese said he made his decision because he believed the 2010 coup was a mistake.
"Labor is the party of fairness. It was not fair, it was wrong," Albanese said of the coup.
"We cannot have a situation whereby a first-term elected prime minister be deposed without warning under the circumstances in which it was done," he said.
With Monday's ballot on her mind, Gillard made an exception to her rule of not commenting on polls.
"The ultimate measure of a government ... isn't opinion polls in newspapers," she said. "The ultimate measure of a government is whether it led this nation to a stronger and fairer future."
Labor strategist Bruce Hawker, a friend of Rudd, said Gillard should hand over power to Rudd without a vote in the interests of the government's survival in the next elections.
"I think Julia Gillard should withdraw her nomination for the leadership of the party and the government because she doesn't have the confidence of the Australian people — Kevin Rudd does," Hawker told reporters outside Rudd's home.
Asked about the latest newspaper polls, Rudd said, "Everyone will look at the opinion polls today (and) draw their own conclusions."