Former prime minister Kevin Rudd confirmed Friday he will challenge his successor Julia Gillard to lead Australia's ruling party, saying she had lost voters' trust and would crash at the next election.
Rudd, who quit as foreign minister while in Washington this week, arrived back in Australia a day after Prime Minister Gillard called a ballot for Monday to decide who should lead Labor as a divisive rift between them came to a head.
"If we are honest to ourselves, all the indications are we are heading to the rocks at the next elections," Rudd said, with polls due in 2013.
"Rightly or wrongly, Julia has lost the trust of the Australian people, and starting on Monday I will start restoring that trust.
"That is why I have decided to contest the leadership of the Australian Labor Party," he said, adding that if he lost on Monday he would retire to the backbenches and not take on Gillard again.
Rudd emphasised the achievements of his government between 2007 and 2010, before he was abruptly removed by Gillard following a series of policy mis-steps and bitter disputes over his leadership style.
Uniquely among advanced economies, Australia managed to avoid recession after the 2008 global financial crisis, helped by a China-fuelled mining boom.
But while he remains popular with voters, Rudd, considered egotistical and headstrong by some colleagues, seems likely to lose the vote, according to media tallies of the 103-member Labor caucus.
So far, at least 20 ministers have publicly declared for Gillard as the ugly row descended into a series of personal attacks.
Experts said the battle between Gillard and Rudd was little more than a power play that had only succeeded in tearing the party apart and alienating voters.
"No matter who wins the leadership ballot, Labor loses. The destabilisation will continue," said Rodney Smith, a political analyst at the University of Sydney.
Rudd has never forgiven his one-time deputy for ousting him in a party coup in 2010, observers say. Gillard now leads a minority government that relies on the support of independent and Greens MPs.
Labor is badly lagging Tony Abbott's conservative opposition ahead of the elections due next year, with polls suggesting Gillard's administration would be dumped by the electorate if an election were held tomorrow.
But Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister, remains confident of remaining in the top job.
"The choice that the nation faces and my parliamentary colleagues face on Monday is a choice as to who has got the character, the temperament and the strength to deliver on behalf of the Australian people," she said.
"I am confident I can lead Labor to a victory at the next election."
Since he resigned as the country's top diplomat amid intense leadership speculation, Rudd has been savaged by senior cabinet ministers who accuse him of undermining the party for personal gain.
He urged people not to believe scathing criticisms that suggested -- in his words -- that "Kevin Rudd is the anti-Christ incorporated, and if not the son of Satan, at least the grandson of Satan".
"It's quite plain to me that what I see from the faceless men is the same shock and awe tactics that I seem to remember being deployed during the leadership coup during June 2010," he said.
Rudd called on voters to take matters into their own hands and "pick up your telephone, speak to your local members of parliament, tell them what you think, jump into the media, tell them what you think".