John Howard says he will retire part way through next term.

Perhaps Bush will invite Howard to his Texas ranch for a big holiday party. It sounds as if Labor might finally be coming back in strength in Australia so Howard may find himself forced into retirement after the next election.

Howard signals end to political career
By Peter Smith in Sydney

Published: September 13 2007 11:15 | Last updated: September 13 2007 11:15

John Howard has called an end to his political career after saying he would retire as Australia’s second-longest serving prime minister part way through his next term if he wins an election due to be held by early December.

The decision comes after one of the most tumultuous periods of his 11-year premiership and as his personal standing and that of the ruling Liberal/National party coalition trails a resurgent opposition Labor party under Kevin Rudd.

Mr Howard had hoped for a political boost from Australia’s hosting of 21 world leaders from Pacific Rim economies at the weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) meeting. He has instead been repeatedly forced to deny he planned to step aside after losing support from within party ranks, following damaging displays of disunity from senior cabinet ministers.

But after a meeting with his Liberal party colleagues this week when his leadership went unchallenged, Mr Howard announced he would step down before 2010 after his election agenda was in place, and anointed Peter Costello, treasurer, to succeed him.

He said it would not be easy to retire after being re-elected.

“I won’t find it the least bit easy because I am very committed to this job and I will not like leaving it. But everything comes to an end.”

Labor seized on his comments, pointing out that Australians were being asked to vote for a leader who planned to retire. Mr Rudd said Mr Howard could no longer govern his own party let alone the country.

Andrew Macintosh, deputy director of Australia Institute, a Canberra-based think tank, said Mr Howard had been “dragged kicking and screaming” to make the announcement against his own political judgement.

“It seems terminal,” he said. “He is running out of time to call an election, the polling is terrible, there has been continued speculation over his leadership and now he says he wants to hand over to a disastrously unpopular Peter Costello.”

“To say you plan to resign and anoint Peter Costello is a bad political strategy,” he said.

Wayne Errington, a political science lecturer at Australian National University and Howard biographer, said up until last week Mr Howard could have stared down insurrection from within his party but it was now clear senior ministers no longer wanted him in the job.

“He has had to change his form of words from what he’s previously said, which was he will stay as long as the party wanted him.”

In 2000, Mr Howard said he would contemplate retirement when he reached 64 but as that date drew nearer a few years later he said he would stay as long as he had the party’s support, a phrase he has used ever since.

“He has come under more and more pressure from Costello and he has been forced to address issues that he would rather have left ambiguous,” Mr Errington said.

Mr Howard, 68, is seeking a fifth term in office. He has a reputation as a doughty political survivor and unexpectedly toppled Paul Keating’s Labor government in 1996.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007


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