WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd says he is encouraged by support from government colleagues to challenge Prime Minister Julia Gillard for the leadership of their Labor Party.
Rudd told reporters at his hotel in Washington late Wednesday that he did not believe Gillard could lead the party to an election victory next year.
But Rudd would not say whether he would challenge Gillard in a leadership ballot of Labor lawmakers until he returns to Australia on Friday.
"I've had many conversations with caucus colleagues and with ministerial colleagues. I'm very pleased and encouraged by the amount of positive support that encourages me to contest the leadership of the Australian Labor Party," Rudd said.
He said his supporters regarded him as the best prospect to lead the ruling party to victory in the next elections and "to save the country from the ravages of an Abbot government," referring to the current opposition leader, Tony Abbott.
Gillard ousted Rudd as prime minister in June 2010 in an internal coup, and their center-left Labor Party scraped through elections later that year to lead a minority government. Polls now suggest Labor would suffer a devastating defeat, but Gillard maintains she has her colleagues' support.
Gillard was to hold a news conference Thursday to "make a further statement" on Rudd's resignation. Media reports as well as current and former Labor lawmakers said she will announce a leadership ballot of party lawmakers on Monday.
A Rudd supporter, Sen. Doug Cameron, said a Monday poll would be unfair because Rudd would not have time to canvass support.
"It's clear that some senior ministers are intent on putting a stake through Kevin Rudd's heart and I don't think that's justified," Cameron told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.
Rudd was critical of sniping against him within the party, and was plain-spoken about what he saw as Gillard's dim prospects to win in a national election, and touted his own stewardship while premier of Australia's economy during the global crisis.
"I do not believe that Prime Minister Gillard can lead the Australian Labor Party to success in the next election," he said.
In earlier comments, Rudd left open the option of quitting politics, which would trigger a by-election and could cost Labor its single-seat majority in Parliament. That would give the conservative opposition coalition the chance to form a new government if it can win the support of independent legislators, or it could force early elections.
In apparent anticipation of a Rudd bid for the party's leadership, Gillard deputy Wayne Swan issued scathing criticism of the former prime minister.
"For too long, Kevin Rudd has been putting his own self-interest ahead of the interests of the broader Labor movement and the country as a whole, and that needs to stop," he said in a statement.
Labor senior strategist Bruce Hawker said he spoke to Rudd before his announcement and that Rudd is likely to challenge Gillard.
Before Rudd announced his resignation, Gillard had refused to comment on media reports that she intended to fire him as foreign minister for disloyalty. Rudd then criticized Gillard for failing to defend him from colleagues' criticisms that he was undermining the government through his own leadership ambitions.
Gillard said she was taken by surprise by the resignation.
"I am disappointed that the concerns Mr. Rudd has publicly expressed this evening were never personally raised with me, nor did he contact me to discuss his resignation prior to his decision," she said in a statement.
Many Australians were angry when the government dumped Rudd, who was swept into office as prime minister by 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.
Labor lawmakers moved against Rudd in 2010 because opinion polls suggested they were unlikely to win elections that year under his leadership.
After the 2010 elections, Labor under Gillard formed the first minority government in Australia since World War II.
Opposition Abbott said Rudd's resignation confirmed that the government is unworthy to continue in office.