Julia Gillard has demanded that Labor end its civil war ahead of an expected crushing victory over Kevin Rudd in a leadership spill this morning.
After days of ferocious infighting, the Prime Minister and her challenger yesterday adopted a more conciliatory tone, with both calling on the party to unite whatever the result.
But while Mr Rudd promised Ms Gillard "unequivocal support" should she win the leadership ballot, he warned that the "faceless men" might move on today's winner in coming months.
The Gillard camp is confident the PM will secure two-thirds support in the 103-strong Labor caucus when the position of leader is officially declared open at 7am today.
And with only a handful of MPs either undecided or refusing to say which candidate they will support, the Rudd camp was yesterday conceding their candidate would lose.
Last night, an estimated 69 members of the caucus were backing Ms Gillard and 29 supported Mr Rudd. Five were either undecided or undeclared. Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, one of Mr Rudd's most senior supporters, said yesterday: "All public indications suggest that Julia Gillard will win."
Despite senior colleagues openly doubting her ability to lead Labor to victory next year, Ms Gillard said she was "absolutely convinced" she could beat Tony Abbott next year.
"I believe we will unite following tomorrow's ballot," Ms Gillard said.
"I've got great faith in my Labor colleagues, each and every one of them, that the things that drive us to be in Government and to deliver the change Australia needs will continue to drive us solidly."
And she indicated zero tolerance for bickering after the ballot.
"I do not want to see continued commentary on these kinds of matters after Monday," she said.
"What we will be talking about after Monday's ballot is our program for reform, our vision for the future and why it is at risk under Tony Abbott."
Mr Rudd, who did not contest a leadership ballot in June 2010 after factional chiefs led a party revolt on his prime ministership, said he would respect the result.
"If Julia is returned on Monday, then she will have my unequivocal support between now and the next election, because we have interests way beyond individuals here," he said.
"What I'd say, though, to other people within the parliamentary party, is this: if Julia is returned, or if I'm elected, then I think it's time for various of the faceless men to lay down the cudgels.
"Because there is a fear, on the part of many, that other folk will line up and have a go at whoever the leader is who emerges from Monday, now be it myself or Julia. And I would be very concerned if that were to happen."
Mr Rudd was referring to the prospect of a third candidate emerging later in the year - one of Stephen Smith, Bill Shorten or Simon Crean - if Ms Gillard cannot improve Labor's primary vote.
Rudd supporters agree that while the ballot should quell the matter, momentum will inevitably build for leadership change if the polls do not improve. "Tomorrow will not sort out the Government's problems because Kevin was not the Government's problem," one MP who will vote for Mr Rudd said.
Peter Garrett yesterday joined fellow ministers Nicola Roxon and Tony Burke in declaring he would refuse to accept a Cabinet posting if Mr Rudd won the ballot.
He said that by the end of Mr Rudd's prime ministership he did not have the order, function and purpose that are the "necessary constituents of stable government".
"If Mr Rudd were to prevail on Monday, I wouldn't seek to serve in his ministry, even if he chose to ask me," he said.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the independent MPs who were propping up the minority Government should withdraw that support and force an election. <div class="endnote">