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Published: Wednesday, 11/28/2007

A case of electoral fatigue

ANOTHER close ally of President Bush, has been pushed out of office, this time Australia's center-right prime minister, John Howard and there is a temptation to blame his defeat on policy proximity to the American president.

It is more likely, however, that after 11 years Australians had simply become tired of Mr. Howard and his leadership. The British have sometimes exhibited the same tendency, ousting strong leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and even Winston Churchill when they stayed around too long.

In Australia's case, the economy was going strong and there was no single substantive issue that appeared to spell the end for Mr. Howard.

Nevertheless, his defeat was clear and ignominious.

Mr. Howard, 68, had been prime minister for more than 11 years. Not only did his Liberal Party lose the election to the Labor Party, he lost his own seat in parliament, which he had held for 33 years, to a female former television newscaster.

It would be tempting for critics of Mr. Bush to note the fall of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in 2004, British Prime Minister Tony Blair this year, and now Mr. Howard in Australia and draw the conclusion - full of implications for Republican candidates in 2008 - that Mr. Bush carries with him a black cloud of the sort that cartoonist Al Capp always drew over the head of Joe Btfsplk in the Li'l Abner comic strip.

But more likely, the politics of electoral fatigue were at work.

Mr. Howard's successor, Kevin Rudd, 50, a former diplomat who speaks Mandarin Chinese, has promised policy changes, including one that will be important to the United States. Australia, a charter member of the original "coalition of the willing," has 550 combat troops and 300 support forces in Iraq. Mr. Rudd pledged to withdraw the combat forces, but leave in place the support troops. He'll also leave 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan.

Mr. Howard had also kept Australia in the same column as the United States on global warming. Both countries had signed the Kyoto convention but not ratified it.

Mr. Rudd says the Australian parliament will now ratify Kyoto and that he will travel to Bali next month to attend a world summit on developing a successor treaty to Kyoto.

Mr. Rudd said he wants to visit the United States early next year to maintain the alliance. But he will join Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in maintaining ties, while avoiding Bush policies such as pursuit of the Iraq war that have become unpopular with their own electorates.



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