Australia's Gillard ousted from Labor leadership

A special leadership caucus Wednesday evening ousted Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard as leader of the country's Labor Party.

Gillard had called a leadership vote earlier Wednesday amid a leadership challenge by former Labor chief Kevin Rudd.

The special caucus meeting of party lawmakers at Parliament House in Canberra voted 57 for Rudd, 45 for Gillard.

Gillard, who had expressed confidence of winning the leadership test, had promised earlier in the day she would leave federal politics if she lost.

In an address after her defeat, Gillard congratulated victor Rudd, adding she had written to Gov. Gen. Quentin Bryce asking for Rudd to be "commissioned as Prime Minister of Australia."

She also affirmed her promise not to contest her seat in the upcoming election, saying she will have time in the coming weeks "to say hello and goodbye" to her local constituency.

Gillard thanked her colleagues for their support saying, "They defied political gravity time after time to provide me with more support as leader of the Labor Party when the going got incredibly tough."

"I understand that today the pressure finally got too great for many of our colleagues. I respect that and I respect the decision that they have made," she said while calling on her colleagues to fight to win the upcoming election.

Gillard also raised the issue of gender, a topic that has been the subject of much debate in more recent times with both parties using gender issues to capitalize on public sentiment.

"The reaction to being the first female does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership. What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that and the woman after that and I am proud of that," Gillard said.

Gillard became prime minister by ousting Rudd in a party leadership challenge in 2010 and she had already set the next general election for Sept. 14.

But with Rudd taking over the leadership that date could change.

It is also unclear if Rudd will automatically succeed Gillard as prime minister because while the governor general is expected to accept Gillard's request, the opposition could force a vote of no confidence and it is possible some of those who supported Gillard, including independent members of Parliament, might not vote for Rudd if he is challenged by Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott.