UPDATE: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced a formal leadership ballot to take place at 10 a.m. on Monday, Australian east coast time.
The ballot will allow lawmakers to decide whether she should continue to lead the ruling Labor Party or former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd (also the former Prime Minister) should replace her.
Kevin Rudd, whose shock resignation as Australian Foreign Minister has sent the media into live blog mode, is using Washington D.C. as a staging point for his next move — a likely challenge for the country's top job.
After canceling an official address at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Wednesday morning (the website carries a picture of a serious-looking Rudd and an apology), Rudd reportedly retreated to the Willard hotel.
As measure of the news value assigned to the situation, the two major media organizations Down Under — Fairfax Media and News Limited — are live blogging the story.
The assumption — and it's universal here — is that Rudd is plotting the final stages of a well-orchestrated coup to overthrow Prime Minister Julia Gillard as both leader of the ruling Labor Party and the Australia's "commander in chief."
Gillard's minority government has been steadily losing popularity as Gillard and Rudd, whom she ousted in 2010, have escalated their personal and political feud.
Rudd said in his resignation speech that while saddened to give up a job he loved, he could only serve as Foreign Minister "if I have the confidence of Prime Minister Gillard and her senior ministers."
He said Gillard's failure to repudiate attacks on him by said senior ministers in recent weeks led him to conclude that she shared their views. You can read a transcript here.
Gillard, for her part, has neither directly addressed the ongoing tensions nor admitted to any belief other than Rudd had been "a strong and effective advocate for Australia’s interests overseas."
She issued a brief statement after Rudd's resignation, saying: "I am disappointed that the concerns Mr Rudd has publicly expressed this evening were never personally raised with me, nor did he contact me to discuss his resignation prior to his decision."
The standoff between the two has divided Labor Party lawmakers, alienated otherwise loyal Labor voters and all but paralyzed the government, which everyone agrees really should be getting on with the job of governing.
Everybody knew it wasn't a matter of if, rather of when Rudd would challenge Gillard for the leadership he so abruptly lost when, as his deputy, she gained the support of party power brokers reportedly tired of Rudd's autocratic style and dismissive (toward them) attitude.
The latest on the blogs is that Gillard will make an announcement of some sort around 9 a.m. Canberra time.
Meantime, so keen is she to keep her powder dry that spent Wednesday evening in her sleep home town of Adelaide, visiting her parents in a retirement village and — according to Australia's Daily Telegraph — unfortunately running over a TV cameraman in her bid to escape uninterviewed. (Well, she didn't, but the tail end of her convoy did. The police are reportedly investigating.)
The best guess is that she will call a leadership ballot to once and for all decide the issue of who has the support to lead the party — and by default serve as the country's prime minister at least until the nest general election.
Opinions on this among the pair's Labor Party colleagues are by now well-formed, but Down Under doesn't mind giving air time to one of the more measured comments from an otherwise pretty emotional bunch.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon told Australia's ABC that Rudd wasn't a "messiah" and that while he might disagree, his return to the top job would not be good for the country.
“I think, ultimately, everybody knows that Kevin would like his job back. I understand why personally he might want to. But Julia has that job, she’s been doing a really good job despite all the diversions and distractions, and I think we need to get out of this idea that Kevin is a messiah who will deliver an election back to us. That is just, I think, fanciful."
Rudd, well-practiced at defending himself, said that he would return to Australia this week before deciding his future and planned to make a statement before Parliament resumed next week.
"There is one overriding question for my caucus colleagues, and that is who is best placed to defeat Tony Abbott [the conservative challenger] at the next election," he reportedly said.
Now for the burning question on Down Under's mind — as a taxpayer, who assumes that Rudd — still a member of the Australian parliament — is staying at the Willard on the government tab, we'd like at some stage to know who's paying for the mini bar.