CANBERRA: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stubbornly clung to power on Thursday as senior ministers deserted him, saying he would hold a second leadership vote on Friday if he received a letter signed by the majority of the ruling Liberal party.
Turnbull narrowly won a leadership vote on Tuesday against former home affairs minister Peter Dutton. Dutton and senior ministers on Thursday called for a second ballot.
Key Turnbull supporter Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Turnbull no longer had majority party support and that Dutton was now the best person to lead the conservative government to the next election, due by May 2019.
Several ministers have tendered their resignation. The leadership crisis saw the government adjourn parliament on Thursday until September.
Turnbull said if he received a letter requesting a fresh vote with the signatures of 43 Liberal party lawmakers, he would call a party meeting for midday Friday (0200 GMT). If a leadership spill motion was then passed, he would not stand in the vote.
Australian media reported on Thursday that Treasurer Scott Morrison would be a surprise challenger for the top job.
Morrison has been a Turnbull supporter, but has reportedly long held ambitions on the prime ministership.
Whoever emerges as Australia`s next prime minister, they will become the country`s sixth prime minister in less than a decade. The political revolving door has angered and frustrated voters and the business sector.
“Australians will be rightly appalled by what they are witnessing in their parliament,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.
Turnbull said the leadership crisis was an “internal insurgency” to move the Liberal party to the far right. “A minimum in the party room, supported by others outside the parliament, has sought to bully, intimidate others into making this change of leadership,” he said.
“It`s been described by many people…as a form of madness.
Turnbull came to power in a party-room coup in September 2015. A social liberal and multi-millionaire former merchant banker, Turnbull has struggled to appeal to conservative voters and only narrowly won an election in 2016.
The ruling Liberal-National coalition government has consistently trailed the opposition Labor party in opinion polls, but Turnbull has remained the voters` preferred prime minister over Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Shorten said the “cannibalistic behaviour” over the Liberal leadership was eating the government alive. “Australia no longer has a functioning government,” he told parliament.
The political uncertainty clouded the outlook for investors who punished the Australian dollar, sending it 0.9 percent lower to $0.7289. The Aussie was the worst performing major currency on Thursday.
Australian shares slipped 0.2 percent.
“For everybody in the country what is happening in Canberra is disappointing and frustrating. Business likes certainty and confidence in what happens in the future. Anytime we see uncertainty like is happening in Canberra it is not helpful,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.