BRISBANE, Australia — Australia's prime minister has urged voters to avoid likening Australian politics to an episode of "Celebrity Big Brother." Fine, but surely she meant "Survivor"?
Julia Gillard is locked in the political struggle of her life with Kevin Rudd — the former Prime Minister whom she deposed in a 2010 leadership coup, backed by powerful forces within the ruling Labor Party.
The two face a ballot on Monday that will determine who leads the Labor Party and — by default — leads the country as Prime Minister.
In the meantime, Gillard — who is unpopular with the Australian public but backed by a majority of her fellow legislators — must employ all the strategy, stamina and determination she has to avoid being voted off, in this case, one very big island.
For while Rudd — Australia's Foreign Minister until he resigned in spectacular style this week — lacks the support of his fellow lawmakers (Gillard is believed to have the support of about 70 of her Labor Party colleagues, and Rudd only around 30, according to The Age newspaper), three separate new polls show him as the clear favorite with voters, who will ultimately decide Labor's fate at national elections.
The margins in the three polls released Saturday are telling: 58 percent, 53 percent and 52 percent favoring Rudd, versus 34 percent, 30 percent and 26 preferring Gillard.
Rudd is also more popular among Labor voters than Gillard.
However — and here's an interesting statistic — most Labor voters (52 percent) felt the party should stick with Gillard.
And ordinary voters — perhaps tiring of the distraction from Labor's main task of governing the country — were also split on whether the party should dump Gillard, with 48 percent favoring a change of leader and 47 percent believing the government should stick with the incumbent.
Distraction may be an understatement.
Since the leadership ballot was announced in the wake of resignation as Foreign Minister — Labor politicians have engaged in a form of internal warfare described by one of the party's lawmakers as "animalistic."
The Sydney Morning Herald sought to describe the seriousness of the internal "bloodletting" by comparing it to attack advertising by campaigning Republican politicians in the US.
Citing a Washington Post statistic that while Republicans spent 5 percent of all their ad budgets attacking each other in the election four years ago, this time around they were spending 51 percent, the paper wrote that:
"The American standard for negativity appears to have been overtaken by an abrupt new Australian outburst."
The percentage of negative statements during this short week of challenge fever: 58 per cent.
Australian Labor makes the US Republicans look almost charitable to each other by comparison, the paper says.
Perhaps it's a case of violence begets violence: Kevin Rudd, who as Labor Party leader won a landslide election victory back in 2007, was (some would argue cruelly) stripped of his leadership -- and consequently the office of Prime Minister -- by a Gillard-led Labor Party coup in 2010.
The move was seen by Gillard supporters at the time as necessary to maintain Party unity, given that Rudd had become a divisive figure -- seen as an authoritarian and vindictive leader, according to his speech writer at the time, "regularly treated his staff, public servants and backbenchers with rudeness and contempt."
But Gillard -- accused of having a cold demeanor and a loose relationship with the truth, among other failings -- has regularly come last in polls comparing her popularity with that of Rudd and, almost as an afterthought, Tony Abbott - her political opposite.
So what are Labor's hapless Labor Party representatives to do: stick with an unpopular leader for the sakes of continuity and stability, or give the people what -- when all's said and done -- they appear to want?