Australia faces months - or perhaps weeks - of continuing political uncertainty, after Tony Abbott survived an attempt to remove him as Prime Minister but endured the humiliation of possibly two-thirds of his backbenchers voting for change.
In an emotional address to his party room after 39 out of 102 Liberal MPs and Senators supported a backbench motion calling for a leadership contest, Abbott reportedly likened the vote to a "near death experience". At a later media conference outside Parliament House, the Australian Prime Minister said he was "confident that what we have shown people is that we have looked over the precipice and we are not going down the Labor Party path of a damaged and dysfunctional government".
Abbott, though, looked deflated and shell-shocked, and pundits from both sides of politics said his days were numbered. "Tony Abbott has bought some time but that's all," wrote Dennis Shanahan, a columnist with the Australian. He would not survive another mistake, said Chris Kenny, a commentator and former conservative government staffer. "He's one dumb knighthood away from oblivion," Kenny said on Sky News.
Although the motion was defeated, with 61 Liberal politicians voting against it (one was on paternity leave and another voted informally), it received significantly more support than had been expected. In 2012, Labor leader Julia Gillard won a party room vote 71-31 over Kevin Rudd, but lost the leadership a year later.
And taking into account that the 35 ministers and parliamentary secretaries would probably have felt duty-bound to support Abbott - and that neither Malcolm Turnbull nor any other rival had spoken up beforehand - it was hardly a gesture of confidence in Abbott's leadership.
The vote followed the worst poll yet for the Coalition since Abbott replaced Turnbull as Liberal leader in 2009. The Newspoll survey gave Labor a 14-point lead after preferences, with 57 per cent to 43 per cent. It also, according to Fairfax Media, followed a blitz of phone calls on Sunday in which Abbott entreated backbenchers to give him six months to transform the Government's fortunes. Even after that, 40 per cent of his party room did not support him.
Speaking haltingly at the media conference, Abbott acknowledged that the vote had been a "chastening experience". Last year's deeply unpopular Budget had been "perhaps too bold, too ambitious", he said, promising much more consultation with backbenchers on radical measures such as paying to see a GP. At the party room meeting, he reportedly also made major concessions, including curbing some of the powers of his widely disliked chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Asked later if Credlin had offered to resign, he replied: "All of us have had to have a good, hard, long look at ourselves. And all of us are resolved to be different and better in the future." Turnbull had been expected to stand against Abbott if the "spill" motion was carried. Less clear were the intentions of the deputy Liberal leader, Julie Bishop, who is believed to covet the top job but has been careful to avoid appearing disloyal.
Commentators were scathing following the vote. Michael Gordon, political editor of the Age, wrote that Abbott was now "a prime minister who leads in name only and governs with a sword of Damocles hanging over his head".
What's next for ...
Backbenchers say he has six months to listen more, learn from his mistakes and lift the Government's performance.
Malcolm Turnbull: The undeclared pretender to the throne has shown patience. That will end if Abbott's mistakes continue. Turnbull's weakness is that support for him in the party is not as strong as the public. Polls suggest he would turn polling around. The party room is split into "cells", variously supportive of Abbott, Bishop, Turnbull, Scott Morrison and "anyone but Turnbull".
Julie Bishop: She has shown great loyalty to Abbott, but could be the bursts-through-the-middle candidate in another spill for those opposed to Turnbull. Has a foreign policy agenda focused on terrorism and dealing with the imminent executions in Indonesia.
Labor: The Opposition has bolstered its support by talking up the unfairness of changes to Medicare, universities, pensions and welfare, as well as broken promises on cuts to schools, hospitals and the ABC. 2015 will be about policy development and improving Bill Shorten's approval rating. A change to Turnbull or Bishop would require a strategic rethink.
for a leadership spill