Aussie PM says she has colleagues' strong support

February 20, 2012 - 10:25 PM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Tuesday she still had enough support to lead the government despite growing speculation that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd plans to seize power.

Gillard came to power in an internal coup within her Labor Party that ousted Rudd in June 2010. She became only the third prime minister since World War II to gain power in this way.

Speculation is mounting that Rudd supporters plan to attempt to restore him to power soon. The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported Tuesday that rebel Labor lawmakers were circulating a petition calling for a leadership ballot next week. The petition needs at least 35 signatures from among the 103 Labor lawmakers in the Parliament to force a ballot.

Sen. Bob Brown, whose minor Greens party is part of the government's coalition, said Tuesday he expects that Labor will hold the ballot next week.

A change of leadership could bring down the government, since Brown and independent lawmakers who support Gillard's government say their agreements would not necessarily apply if Rudd took over.

Gillard said Tuesday that Rudd didn't have enough support among his government colleagues to successfully challenge.

"I enjoy the strong support of my colleagues," she told reporters.

Rudd was in the United States on Tuesday and has repeatedly denied he plans to challenge Gillard for the party leadership.

Many Australians were angry when the government dumped Rudd, the prime minister who swept into office at general elections in 2007. In Australia's system, the prime minister is chosen by a majority of lawmakers in the House of Representatives, not by voters.

In 2010, Labor lawmakers moved against Rudd because opinion polls suggested that they were unlikely to win elections that year under his leadership.

Labor under Gillard scraped through the 2010 elections to form the first minority government in Australia since World War II. Polls now suggest that Labor is headed for a devastating defeat at elections due next year.