Australian PM Howard set to call election -reports

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CANBERRA, Oct 14 (Reuters) Australian Prime Minister John Howard is set to call a parliamentary election today, local media reported, as a new opinion poll showed the veteran leader faces political annihilation driven by disgruntled young voters.

Howard, 68, in power for 11 years but lagging his youthful Labor opponent Kevin Rudd in polls, is expected to seek permission for an election on either November 24 or December 1 from the governor-general, representative of Australia's head of state Queen Elizabeth, reports said.

The poll will determine the future of Australia's military contribution in Iraq and its stance on climate change, with Labor promising to withdraw troops and sign the Kyoto climate pact, but it will be fought and won on domestic issues.

Rudd, 50, has promised generational change taking the country into the future, including sweeping reforms to health, education and controversial labour laws introduced by Howard.

Those laws, cutting conditions and making it easier to hire and fire workers, are a major reason first-time voters and those aged under 29 are set to dump Howard, with three-quarters backing Labor, the Taverner/ Sun Herald newspaper poll said.

Labor has 59 per cent of the vote, compared to the government's 41 per cent, said the poll, published today.

With Labour needing to pick up 16 seats in the 150-seat lower house to take power, the survey showed Rudd was on track for a landslide win, with up to 20 seats expected to change from government hands on polling day, the newspaper said.

Howard, the country's second longest-serving leader, who is seeking a fifth term, has stressed his economic stewardship and tough security credentials to win back voters. Unemployment last week hit 33-year lows amid the ongoing global resources boom.

But Howard's bedrock support in outer suburban mortgage belts has been shaken since the last election, three years ago, by successive interest rate rises to 6.5 per cent under a tightening cycle that began back in 2002.

Howard has promised a national vote on recognition for Aborigines in the country's constitution if he wins, a move dismissed by opponents as a last ditch effort to present a ''vision'' to lure back jaded former conservative supporters.

''Howard's danger is that the election has turned into a referendum on whether he has stayed too long, whether he is too old, or tired, to have a vision for the future,'' political columnist Glenn Milne wrote in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

Reuters DKS VP0630

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