Australian Election Scheduled For Yom Kippur

Australian PM Gillard stunned constituents and angered Jewish voters by announcing that the national elections will be held on September 14.

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Rachel Hirshfeld ,

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard stunned constituents on Wednesday by announcing that national elections will be held on September 14.

Gillard, who holds power by a narrow margin and is trailing in the polls behind the conservative opposition, broke from the country’s tradition of revealing election dates only a few weeks in advance.

While Gillard’s surprising announcement aimed at ending political uncertainty surrounding her struggling minority government, she sparked outrage within the Jewish community, as September 14 falls out on Yom Kippur—the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Federal Labor Jewish MP Michael Danby argued that the party should be required to make special voting arrangements for the nation's 107,000-strong Jewish community or lose support from voters, The Australian newspaper reported.

"As a matter of personal conscience I will be unable to participate on election day. It is my practice, with my wife Amanda, to observe Yom Kippur," Danby said in a statement.

"I hope my constituents will respect my consistency in this matter just as I try to be consistent in others," he added.

Danby said he was negotiating with Special Minister of State Gary Gray "to ensure arrangements for the fullest participation of the Australian Jewish Community in our Australian democratic process," The Australian reported.

According to the paper, opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull was among the first to voice his disappointment, posting a message on Twitter saying, "Deeply disappointed that Julia Gillard chose to hold the election on Yom Kippur - the most solemn and sacred day of the Jewish year".

Australian prime ministers do not traditionally announce elections months in advance, name the election at a date to their political advantage, but Gillard said that by doing so the opposition would have time to develop its policies.

"Announcing the election date now enables individuals, investors and consumers to plan their year," she said. "It gives shape and order to their year. "I do this not to start the nation's longest election campaign: quite the opposite. It should be clear to all which are the days of governing and which are the days of campaigning."