Prosperity undoing Howard’s re-election plans in Australia
MELBOURNE, Australia — Prime Minister John Howard looks increasingly like a victim of his own success.
With the country experiencing record prosperity after 11 years of conservative rule, voters are focusing on other issues — and finding the answers elsewhere.
With Nov. 24 elections looming, the long-serving prime minister and close U.S. ally has been unable to narrow a 12- to 14-point lead in the polls held by his Labor Party opponent, Kevin Rudd. Bookmakers have reinforced expectations of a Howard defeat, installing Mr. Rudd as a 4-6 favorite.
A Galaxy Poll published Oct. 29 brought even worse news for the governing coalition. In four key seats in the state of New South Wales, Labor has boosted its support to 46 percent, up nine points from the last election in 2004, while the governing coalition has dropped from 49.6 percent to 42 percent.
Political analysts say that by stressing the success of his economic policies during the campaign, Mr. Howard has misjudged the mood of most Australians, who no longer are voting with their wallets.
“While there are (and always will be) people struggling to make ends meet, the plain fact is that financial conditions in Australia today are more favorable than they have been in a generation,” columnist Andrew Charlton wrote in the Age newspaper.
Mr. Howard has been vocal in claiming credit for this happy state of affairs but, despite the lowest rate of unemployment in more than 30 years, surveys have shown such is- sues as health, education and the environment are of more interest to voters.
Australia is experiencing its worst drought on record. The subsequent rise in food prices, together with rising oil prices, has increased the pressure on inflation. The Reserve Bank will meet next week to discuss whether to raise interest rates — which would be a further blow to the government.
In the two weeks since the election date was announced, neither Mr. Howard nor Mr. Rudd made more than passing reference to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan or other world hot spots where more than 4,000 Australian troops are on active duty.
Nor have illegal aliens, an issue that helped Mr. Howard to a new term in 2001, been a factor in this campaign.
Mr. Howard has stressed his warm personal relationship with President Bush and said Australia will not desert its U.S. ally until “the job is done” in Iraq. Mr. Rudd said he has no intention of disrupting Australia’s friendship with the United States but wants to see a timetable for an end to Australian involvement in Iraq.
Concern over climate change has loomed larger as an issue, particularly after press revelations that Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull had unsuccessfully urged his Cabinet colleagues to ratify the Kyoto Protocol limiting emissions of greenhouse gases.
Australians “no longer are interested in a leader who will just take care of their personal finances,” wrote Mr. Charlton in the Age. “That’s why Howard’s attempts to ignore climate change for the past 11 years have come back to haunt him.”