THE leadership battle between Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton is reaching fever pitch, but some are predicting that a surprise third contender could swoop in and steal the crown.
Neither the Prime Minister nor the former Home Affairs Minister are particularly popular in the polls, and Mr Dutton has even been called "unelectable" by National Party MPs.
Yet it looks unlikely Mr Turnbull can hang on after fending off Mr Dutton's challenge by just 48 votes to 35 and receiving nine offers of resignation from his ministers.
So the timing could be perfect for another, untainted candidate to reluctantly throw their name into the ring for the top job.
ABC political editor Andrew Probyn said: "We have a situation where Peter Dutton might snatch the numbers for the Liberal leadership, but not have the confidence of the house to remain prime minister. In a curious way in this context, Malcolm Turnbull's saviour could be the National Party."
He told ABC News the "compromise candidate" emerging through the middle could be "someone like Scott Morrison, because he is neither Malcolm Turnbull or Peter Dutton."
It could also be Julie Bishop, who appears in some polls to be the Government's only chance of improving their chances if it is forced to go to an election.
And former prime minister Tony Abbott, Mr Turnbull's nemesis and a Dutton supporter, has also been tipped to emerge as another candidate.
TREASURER SCOTT MORRISON
Mr Morrison, who will act as Home Affairs Minister after Mr Dutton's resignation, called for calm earlier this week.
"It's been a pretty torrid decade," he said. "We've had a great period of stability over the past three years. I think this stability in our government has helped key outcomes like the strong performance we had on jobs."
He also defended the Government's changes to the National Energy Guarantee after Mr Turnbull announced it would not include a legislated or regulated 26 per cent emissions target.
But he has previously expressed interest in the top job after the Prime Minister's poor Newspoll performances.
He told the ABC in April he would not pursue his ambitions while Mr Turnbull remained prime minister, insisting Mr Turnbull was the right person to lead the party not just to the next election "but beyond".
But the former immigration minister said that "down the track, if an opportunity presented itself", he would be interested.
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP
Ms Bishop said she will not be running for the top job, emphasising her loyalty when pressed by Leigh Sales on ABC's 7.30.
"That's such a hypothetical. I mean, it's got so many hypotheticals built into it," said Ms Bishop, who was yesterday re-elected to her position after Mr Turnbull placed both their roles up for a vote.
"No. I've just been elected as deputy leader of the party. I don't take that for granted, and I will do my very best to act out that role as deputy in support of the Coalition delivering good government for the Australian people."
According to some polls, the Foreign Minister would be the party's only chance of improving their vote, Sales pointed out.
"Peter Dutton made it clear in April that he wanted to be prime minister," replied Ms Bishop. "I think that was a signal to colleagues that he wants the job. I've got a job. I'm getting on with my job of delivering good government for the people of Australia and supporting the Turnbull Government in doing that."
FORMER PM TONY ABBOTT
Mr Abbott is believed by some to be the driving force behind Mr Dutton's challenge, but that doesn't rule him out as a contender.
Pauline Hanson last night told Sky News she liked the former Home Affairs minister, but also believed Mr Abbott was ready for another shot.
The One Nation senator said Mr Abbott was "speaking the language" Australians wanted to hear, and has learned from his experience.
"People say, 'Oh no, not Tony Abbott again,'" she said. "In the situation that the Government's in now, and destined to lose the next election to Labor, astoundingly, maybe Tony Abbott would've been the alternative to take on this position.
"He's learned a lot from his first time around. He actually is talking about conservative, new coal-fired power stations, immigration, and he's actually speaking the language a lot of Australians want to be heard from the leader of this nation. I think Tony Abbott, if not Peter Dutton, should be given another chance at it."
She said the Liberals had "nothing to lose" by giving Mr Abbott a go.
"I think Tony Abbott should be given another chance at the leadership of the Liberal Party. They've got nothing to lose," she told Ben Fordham on 2GB radio.
"Tony Abbott has the experience, he has the knowledge, he's been pushing the conservative policies.
"In the minds of a lot of Australians, anyone would be better than Malcolm Turnbull as leader of the Liberal Party."
Mr Abbott trashed the Government's NEG last week, before Mr Turnbull made a U-turn and entered the current crisis.
Mr Dutton dismissed the accusation that he's Mr Abbott's "puppet" and refused to confirm whether he would have put him into his cabinet, saying the question "would have been appropriate if I'd won".