Australian PM calls leadership ballot

CANBERRA, Australia: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard caved in to building pressure and called a leadership ballot of parliamentarians in her Labor party for later Thursday.

“I have determined that there will be a ballot for the leadership at 4.30pm (0530 GMT) today. In the meantime, take your best shot,” she said in parliament, adding that the vote would also be for the deputy leadership.

Her decision followed senior cabinet minister Simon Crean openly calling for a ballot, with leadership speculation rampant as Gillard lags badly in opinion polls just six months out from national elections.

Crean said the speculation was “killing” the party as former leader Kevin Rudd waits in the wings and his backers campaign behind the scenes.

“He has got no option but to run,” Crean said of Rudd. “We have to get on with the message and it has to become an inclusive party.”

Rudd was brutally ousted by Gillard in mid 2010 and lost a 2012 leadership challenge 71-31.