From the moment he first took power in 1996, outgoing Australian Prime Minister John Howard showed that - like him or loathe him - the one thing he could not be accused of was weakness.
Mr Howard is not afraid of making unpopular decisions
As head of the Liberal party within the ruling Liberal-National coalition, he has driven his government in the face of strong, sometimes violent opposition.
He took his country to war in Iraq despite huge domestic opposition.
For a while, opinion swung in his favour when the war ended with no Australian casualties.
But many Australians now believe their government's support for the war in the Iraq has increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack on Australian soil, according to the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Mr Howard's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change - another sign of his loyalty to the Bush administration - has likewise proved to be out of touch with voters' feelings.
The prime minister has also pushed through laws on gun control, aboriginal land ownership, compulsory trade unionism and welfare spending - all in the face of strong resistance.
His tough stance on asylum seekers made headlines throughout the world, especially in 2001 when he refused to allow 400 migrants picked up by a Norwegian cargo ship into the country.
While criticised by human right groups, his actions gained him the support of many middle-class Australians.
Successful interventions in East Timor and the Solomon Islands also won him domestic - and international - praise.
But Mr Howard's forthright policy moves eventually backfired, leading to a conclusive defeat in November's election.
The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes suggests that while Australian voters are concerned about high taxes, most would be reluctant to sacrifice social services in the name of a lower tax bill.
The Liberals' changes to labour laws, making it easier for employers to hire and fire staff, have also caused unease.
Even the "aspirational voters" - upwardly-mobile, self-employed people who might be seen as the Liberals' core constituency - drifted to Kevin Rudd's Labor party.
John Howard is a close ally of George Bush
Many observers noted that at times of crisis, Mr Howard appeared to relish the opportunity to appear statesman-like and authoritative.
In 2004, at the age of 65 - a time of life when most people are looking forward to a well-earned retirement - Mr Howard campaigned for and won a fourth term in office.
And in 2006, following a public spat with his deputy and long-term heir apparent, Peter Costello, Mr Howard said he would stay on to fight 2007 elections.
But as the election loomed, some commentators wondered if he was losing his nerve.
After doggedly opposing the idea of a public apology to Aborigines, in October Mr Howard suddenly proposed a referendum on constitutional change to give special recognition to Aborigines' historic status in Australia.
Rise to power
Mr Howard was born in Sydney on 26 July 1939.
His parents ran a petrol station in a middle-class suburb.
At the age of 18, Mr Howard joined the Young Liberal Movement and was involved in student politics at the University of Sydney.
But for his first career he shunned politics and became a solicitor.
In 1962 he was admitted to the New South Wales Supreme Court, and then went on to become a partner in a Sydney law firm.
It was during that time that he met and married a teacher, Janette, with whom he has three children.
Mr Howard entered the political arena in 1974 when he ran for the federal seat of Bennelong - a seat he has held ever since.
After a Liberal victory under Malcolm Fraser in 1975, he rapidly moved up the ranks and was elected deputy leader in 1982.
The following year, however, his party lost the election to Labor and struggled to regain its support-base for more than a decade.
Mr Howard was elected leader of the party, and thus leader of the opposition, in 1985 - losing it to Andrew Peacock in 1989 but regaining it after the resignation of Alexander Downer in 1995.
Soon afterwards, Mr Howard led the party - in coalition with the National party - to a huge victory over Labor in the March 1996 poll, and John Howard became the country's 25th prime minister.
He was then to lead the Liberal-National Coalition to further wins in 1998, 2001 and 2004.