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Will the Mad Monk pull a surprise?

Last updated on: August 20, 2010 16:42 IST

Image: Australian Opposition leader Tony Abbott speaks to a shopper at a Melbourne shopping centre
Photographs: Mick Tsikas/Reuters
Australia is never short of characters.

From the land of Merv Hughes and Shane Warne comes maverick Aussie politician Tony Abbott.

Nicknamed the 'Mad Monk', Tony is currently tied in a razor's edge contest with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in what is turning out to be one of Australia's closest elections.

The latest opinion poll showed a 50:50 split between Julia's ruling Labour party and Tony's Liberal/National coalition.

Until a few weeks ago, victory was virtuaslly assured for Julia, Australia's first woman prime minister.

But then the Mad Monk hit the campaign trail.

Abbott's skintight swimwear added to his colourful image

Image: Placards of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott in Brisbane
Photographs: Jason O'Brien/Reuters
Born in London to Australian parents, Tony Abbott went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar -- former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke and former American president Bill Clinton were also Rhodes Scholars.

Tony gained the nickname 'Mad Monk' for having joined a Catholic seminary to become a priest, but later left the priesthood.

Which is just as well.

In the past, he has made the headlines Down Under for politically incorrect outbursts in public -- reportedly calling then prime minister Kevin Rudd -- who Julia Gillard ousted in an overnight coup some months ago -- a 'toxic bore' and swearing in public.

His skintight swimwear has added to his colourful personality but he ceremonially burnt his Speedos for radio last year.

His campaign for prime minister has seen Tony abandon his maverick image, presenting himself as very controlled and disciplined. It seems to have caught the Aussie imagination.

The maverick

Image: Tony Abbott with an Australian football at the Essendon Football Club
Photographs: Tony Abott Flickr web page
A former journalist, Tony Abbott became leader of the Liberal party last year.

He is a devout Catholic known for his right-wing views like his opposition to abortion.

He was briefly involved in a paternity scandal last year after a girlfriend from university claimed he had fathered her child. DNA tests later revealed that the child was not his.

No one expected Abbott to pose a serious and viable challenge to the Labour party which has run Australia for the past three years.

At the beginning of the campaign for the mid-term election, the Liberals trailed Labour by almost 10 points, but they hadn't reckoned with the Mad Monk.

Can the 'Mad Monk' steal the show?

Image: A visit to the Darwin defence housing estate
Photographs: Tony Abbott Flickr web page
If Tony Abbott wins Saturday's general election -- we will know the results on Sunday -- Julia Gillard will leave office after having served only eight weeks as prime minister.

The Mad Monk could well steal the day.