Beleaguered Australian PM Turnbull clings to power

Malcolm Turnbull says leadership crisis is an ‘internal insurgency’ to move the Liberal party to the far right.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull clung to power on Thursday as senior ministers deserted him.

Turnbull, who narrowly won a leadership vote on Tuesday against former home affairs minister Peter Dutton, said he would hold a second leadership vote on Friday if he received a letter signed by the majority of the ruling Liberal party.

Dutton and senior ministers on Thursday called for a second ballot.

“Australians will be rightly appalled by what they are witnessing in their parliament,” Turnbull told reporters in the capital, Canberra.

Key supporter Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Turnbull no longer had majority party support and Dutton was now the best person to lead the conservative government to the next election, due by May 2019.

Several ministers tendered their resignations. The leadership crisis saw the government adjourn parliament on Thursday until September.

Turnbull said if he received a letter requesting a new vote with the signatures of 43 Liberal legislators he would call a party meeting for midday Friday (0200 GMT). If a leadership spill motion was then passed, he would not stand in the election.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop will stand for the leadership, local media reported. Treasurer Scott Morrison will also challenge for the top job.

No Australian prime minister in the past decade has lasted a full three-year term before being dumped by his or her own party.

Liberal split

Turnbull said the leadership crisis was an “internal insurgency” to move the Liberal party to the far right.

“A minority in the party room, supported by others outside the parliament, has sought to bully, intimidate others into making this change of leadership,” he said. “It’s been described by many people … as a form of madness.”

Turnbull came to power in a party-room coup in September 2015. A social liberal and multi-millionaire former merchant banker, Turnbull has struggled to appeal to conservative voters and only narrowly won an election in 2016. 

“We’ve heard from constitutional scholars that the case is a borderline case and that it would need to be resolved by the high court,” Peter Hartcher, political editor at the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, told Al Jazeera.

“Effectively, the government would have to refer one of its own members … the challenger for the leadership, to the high court for a decision – a process which would probably take weeks or even longer.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies