APEC. Twenty one world leaders. How long will John Howard number amongst them?

Crikey understands that John Howard will be considering his future in his few free moments this weekend. There is a strong possibility he will have made a decision before he goes back to work in Canberra and Parliament resumes next week to either resign or call an election.

John Howard’s government faces electoral annihilation – to use his word. He even faces the loss of his own seat. Arthur Sinodinos is missed. The Liberal machine is in disarray. Morale and momentum are dissipating in the face of persistent poor polling.

Crikey understands that the PM has discussed his future with his two closest advisers: his wife Janette and Graham Morris (senior Liberal sources say he discusses little with his parliamentary colleagues these days).

Will he resign?

Crucially, Crikey understands no one is telling him not to.

There is some speculation that, in a neat twist of history, Alexander Downer, the man who laid down his leadership for Howard back in 1995, Alexander Downer, may well be about to tap the PM on the shoulder.

Conjecture over the Prime Minister’s future has intensified in the past few days, with main sources citing Paul Kelly’s opinion piece in yesterday’s Australian .

“The Howard Government faces the prospect of political annihilation and the most serious defeat since the Liberal Party was created by Robert Menzies,” Kelly said. “The sense of frustration within sections of the Howard Government is undisguised.”

Was the column a plant? A covering of contingencies? “It’s very subtle,” a senior Liberal told Crikey today.

History, of course, tells us that attempts to force John Howard’s hand fail. Circumstances are now different. The Prime Minister appears to only have two choices: to call an election or resign.

Crikey understands that a resignation would not be painted as a change of leadership, instead, it would be portrayed as a change of generation.

That may not prove a challenge for Kevin Rudd. We already know from leaked Crosby Textor research and other polling that the Labor leader is the intuitive choice for those wanting change and that Peter Costello is soiled goods.

John Howard’s departure might be the only bright light for the government, but even if the PM decides to go, he will cast a long shadow over his party’s hopes for the next election.