Facing regional instability from the Asian financial crisis, Australian Prime Minister John Howard has called a national election for Oct. 3. Howard's government, elected in 1996, had until May to call an election. With the economic effects of the Asian crisis harming commodity exports and tourism prospects, however, conservatives opted to move sooner. The opposition Labor Party has been ahead in opinion polls for most of the year. But the conservatives have gained ground since they released a new tax plan earlier this month.