CANBERRA, Australia — Australians chose between electing their fourth prime minister in three years or sticking with their first woman leader in a tight race Saturday that pit her against a conservative male challenger just two months after she took power.
Julia Gillard, a 48-year-old former lawyer with a common law hairdresser spouse, came to power in a June 24 internal coup in her center-left Labor Party during the first term of her predecessor, and almost immediately called elections to confirm her mandate.
She was vying against Tony Abbott, a married 52-year-old former Roman Catholic seminarian with three daughters who barely gained the endorsement eight months ago of his own conservative Liberal Party, which has led Australia for most of the last 60 years.
A relaxed Abbott voted at a beachside polling booth in his Sydney electoral district early Saturday and then helped barbecue bacon, eggs and sausages at a breakfast to raise money for his volunteer life guard club.
"This is a big day for our country," Abbott said. "It's a day when we can vote out a bad government."