Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Election 2007, Rudd the winner!

Election 2007, Rudd the winner!

It was Rudd’s turn in 2006 to turn Labour around and unseat the Coalition government. He completed these missions, a “big ask” in his own word, with flying colours.

His win on the 24th of November marks a historic event of change in over a decade in Australia’s politics. Other former Labour prime ministers at his sworn in ceremony were all pretty old-aged, and Labour had been in opposition wilderness for so long that few had any hands-on administration experience at the federal level. A young talent then rose up to the challenge and led Labour to the stunning victory. During the campaign trail, there have been plenty of doubts and cautions that Rudd would not make it or the canny Howard could always pull out tricks of surviving another Labour resurgence. In the end, the night was Rudd’s to celebrate with open arms, with enough seats grabbed from the Coalition and for forming the first Labour government in over 11 years.

It is perhaps just a simple matter of “time for change” that created the winning swings for Rudd to move into the Lodge. Howard showed signs of aging at the TV debate, breathing heavily and speaking haltingly. He also made angry comments on issues so frequently, indicating his impatience and temper as a senior leader of the nation towards a much younger challenger, a kind of contempt if you like. These don’t make good impressions to potential undecided voters, especially the younger ones. After the debate results showed unfavourable facts to him, Howard simply rejected any invitation for further debate and let Liberals’ campaign issues rot in a natural course. There is a chance that he expected a repeat of the last election dysfunction on the Labour side and a collapsed Rudd at the last moment.

The Liberals in fact agonized over the leadership issue before the election. It is one matter that Howard makes history with his record election wins and the unbeatable achievement of being the longest serving prime minister in Australia’s history, over the top of revered Sir Robert Menzies. It is a completely different matter of the survival of the party. There is Peter Costello eagerly waiting in the wing to succeed Howard at any time, and there is that anxiety in the party that an old Howard is better replaced with a younger leader for the coming election. Of course Costello is not a fresher face, as he has served the conservative cause and in the conservative government for so long to hardly be identified as a change for new. Despite his youthfulness in comparison with Howard, Costello lacks the real leadership quality in critical times, making no declaration of leadership intention and initiated no leadership challenge. He fared worse than Keating; the latter challenged old Hawke and led Labour to another election win. With a weak party and a silent potential successor, Howard with a strong will to stay naturally ignored the issue of leadership change and went ahead with his own plans to make history.

History making indeed! Howard not only lost the government to Labour in a shocking fashion, losing over 20 seats in a 6% national swing, but also managed to lose his own seat in Bennelong as the incumbent Prime Minister to Labour challenger Maxine McKew, a feat only matched by another Liberal prime minister 75 years ago.

Howard’s anti-political correctness and Americanisation eroded the society and spoiled the good things Australians took for granted, such as fair go and social liberty. Australians, surprisingly, made little noise about these retreat from progress and threat to true Aussie spirit, for fear of being branded radicals. They did this also for the false belief of absolute security in a phony war on terror and superiority of their tradition and values. There is this bankruptcy of neo-conservatism in the evolving process during the Howard years, as promises broken and humanitarian principles thrashed by the government on many occasions, in particular after the Iraq war, which made false claims increasingly ridiculous in people’s mind. In the end, the Liberals lost power to convince people and preach more of the same conservatism, being badly hurt by ugly reality as consequences of the war. At the time of this election, it becomes a rare chance for speaking out, leading to the resounding defeat of the Liberals.

Surprisingly, the Liberals collapsed so quickly and quietly so soon after the election results were ascertained. They lost their leader, the successor leader and a number of top team members. It seems some Liberals are jumping ship in panic. The Nationals are doing the same. It is incredible that the almighty conservative party, reigning supreme for over a decade as described in the manuscript, could so quickly changed its mind and lost the fighting spirit. The prime example is Costello’s prompt declaration of leaving politics, causing Kennett branding him a coward with no leadership quality and not fighting when his party needed him most. This is not entirely a surprise, as he avoided challenging Howard before the election, thus shirking the responsibility of being a sensible leader at critical times. The Liberals also became humble so soon, down from their cockiness in just previous weeks in front of Labour opposition. The new leader Brendan Nelson immediately supported Rudd’s decision to rectify the Kyoto protocol, an act Howard would not give a slice of serious thought. This implies that the Liberals perhaps had their doubts about party policies but kept silence under strict Howard rule.

Now they lost their leaders, their cause, and their power bases as well, because all states were already under Labour even before the election, and now the federal government is Labour’s too, a situation rare in Australian history and ultimately dire for the Liberals.

It is fortunate for one to witness dramatic turns in political history of Australia; it is fortunate for me to observe these exciting events at least twice, one of the Keating win in 1993 and the current Rudd win just weeks ago. The second one is especially meaningful, since it occurred at the end of a long run of opposition bad luck, and world neo-conservatism only begins to recede after high tides of unilateralism from the US. I always have faith in the egalitarianism and humanism of Australian people, but only with this Rudd’s win I am convinced of the trueness of these Australian qualities not being submerged by the tyranny of economic rationalism in the previous decade.


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