Conservatives sweep to Australia election victory

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CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia's "unelectable" and gaffe-prone political leader, Tony Abbott, confounded critics Saturday by becoming the country's latest prime minister, leading the opposition to a sweeping election victory and ending six years of Labor Party rule.

Mr. Abbott, the leader of the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition, rode a wave of public bitterness over a hated carbon emissions tax, worries about a flagging economy and frustration over government infighting to win the election.

The result was a stunning turnaround for Mr. Abbott, a 55-year-old former Roman Catholic seminarian and Rhodes scholar who has never been particularly popular and was once dubbed unelectable by opponents and some of his own supporters.

He emerged victorious thanks, in large part, to the frustration of a country fed up with Labor and its once-popular leader, Kevin Rudd, who had engaged in a years-long power struggle with his former deputy, Julia Gillard. Ms. Gillard, who became the nation's first female prime minister after ousting Mr. Rudd in a party vote in 2010, ended up losing her job to Mr. Rudd three years later in a similar internal party coup.

"I now look forward to forming a government that is competent, that is trustworthy and which purposefully and steadfastly and methodically sets about delivering on our commitments to you the Australian people," Mr. Abbott told supporters in his victory speech Saturday night.

With more than 90 percent of votes counted, official figures from the Australian Electoral Commission showed the Liberals ahead by 53 percent to Labor's 47 percent. The coalition was on track to win 91 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, and Labor 54.

For a range of reasons, Mr. Abbott has been dismissed by many critics as not being prime minister material. But the drama between Mr. Rudd and Ms. Gillard, combined with Labor reneging on an election promise by imposing a deeply unpopular tax on the nation's biggest carbon polluters, proved deadly for Labor's re-election chances.

Mr. Abbott has vowed to scrap the carbon tax from July 2014 -- two years after it was implemented -- and instead introduce taxpayer-funded incentives for polluters to operate cleaner.

Australia's new leader inherits a slowing economy, hurt by the cooling of a mining boom that kept the resource-rich nation out of recession during the global financial crisis.

Mr. Abbott has promised to slash foreign aid spending as he concentrates on returning the budget to surplus.

Mr. Abbott has also promised to repeal a tax on coal and iron ore mining companies, which he blames in part for the downturn in the mining boom. The 30 percent tax on the profits of iron ore and coal miners was designed to cash in on burgeoning profits from a mineral boom fueled by Chinese industrial demand.

But the boom was easing before the tax took effect.

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