BRISBANE -- He's been called a psychopath, a narcissist and a foul-mouthed crypto-fascist and Thursday morning he was sworn in as Australia's 28th prime minister.
Kevin Rudd, 55, has performed one of the most stunning political resurrections in Australian history almost three years to the day after his own colleagues nailed him to the cross and left him weeping over his fate in a frozen Canberra courtyard.
On June 24, 2010, 21/2 years after he won office, Rudd's own ruling Australian Labor Party threw him out of the PM's office and installed his deputy, Julia Gillard.
On Wednesday night, the ALP performed the same party trick, this time in reverse. Following reports that Rudd was manoeuvering to have a leadership vote by caucus members, Gillard called one and lost 57 to 45. The nation's first female PM was believed to be leading the party to a political Little Big Horn in an election to be held on Sept. 14 poll.
She quickly resigned as prime minister and announced that she will not seek re-election. She is expected to return to the practice of law.
The re-anointed Rudd, the stone rolled away from his tomb, stepped back onto the centre political stage with a flick of that floppy silver hair and a self-deprecating grin.
Now the Mandarin-speaking former diplomat who began life on a humble Queensland share farm is planning another miracle -- winning the September election.
It doesn't get any weirder than this.
Replace a slain leader with a slain leader, and even a Mafia hit man might raise an eyebrow.
What the Australian public make of it remains to be seen. What is certain is that three years of cold war between Gillard and Rudd have left a deep distaste for politics in an electorate hungry for stability.
The entire two-party system, which allows for a change of what many suspected is pretty much the same guard every few years, has never been more on the nose.
Two new parties are circling, hoping to make inroads into the 150-seat lower house and 76-seat Senate.
But there's no doubt Rudd, despite inspiring the hatred of many in his own party with his temper and relentless micromanaging, has an almost mystical hold on the Australian people guaranteed to lift Labor's flagging fortunes.
Highly cerebral in an anti-intellectual nation, ungainly amid a people who worship athleticism, an observant Christian living in a secular world, Rudd has skipped through hoops of paradox to become a celebrity politician without equal.
A colleague, Steve Gibbons, who holds the Labor seat of Bendigo, once called him a "psychopath with a giant ego,'' while everyone from Gillard to the now-former treasurer Wayne Swan have lined up to point out his failings as a leader and a human being,
Many Labor MPs were prepared to make the September election the party's own funeral pyre rather than allow Rudd back. After he won Wednesday night's ballot, a host of front-bench talent, including the defence minister, announced they were leaving politics.
But the people love him. Loyalty oaths are declared, intimate family anecdotes shared and spirits buoyed as crowds swarm around Rudd when he appears at a shopping mall or a suburban sausage sizzle.
Just last Sunday, after exiting the Anglican Church in South Brisbane after his weekly spiritual benediction, Rudd was showing that effortless ease he has with the Australian public.
As he strolled the footpath towards his favourite coffee shops, two pestering journalists flanking him, a distinguished woman of about 80 approached and asked how he felt.
"Fine,'' he replied. "And you?''
"I pray for you every day,'' she replied.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott might also try some prayers. Abbott's ride to power appeared effortless with Gillard as an opponent.
Rudd's return makes the September election a far more interesting contest.
Michael Madigan is the Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.
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