Australia’s parliamentary vote has turned into a cliffhanger, as the ruling conservative coalition appears to have fended off a possible upset from the Labor party. Climate change was a major factor in the campaign.
Voting has ended in all Australian states following Saturday’s parliamentary elections dominated by opposing plans to tackle climate change.
Early results suggested a tight contest with a slight lead for the ruling conservative coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison of the center-right Liberal party over the opposition Labor party.
However, one poll for Australia’s Nine TV network had predicted Labor would win by 48% to 52% of the vote, which would signal a clear parliamentary majority. Exit polls had also indicated a slight lead for Labour.
Early vote counting, meanwhile, showed a small swing to the Liberal-led conservative coalition.
One confirmed result saw former Prime Minister Tony Abbott lose his Sydney seat of Warringah, which he had held for 25 years.
Polling stations closed in the eastern states, South Australia and the Northern Territory two hours ahead of Western Australia, where voting ended at 6 p.m. local time (1000 UTC).
Morrison failed to unite Liberals
Despite Morrison touting his party’s economic credentials ahead of the election, analysts predicted a lingering voter backlash following a messy internal power struggle last year which saw him oust his socially moderate predecessor.
Morrison was seen as a compromise between the Liberal’s heavily-conservative faction and the moderates. However, he has failed to unite the two sides.
The reserved Labor leader, Bill Shorten, seemed to strike a chord with voters, who feel left behind financially and are worried about the environment.
As he cast his ballot earlier on Saturday, Shorten was confident about forming a majority government.
“Today is the people’s day,” he said. “Be it buying a ‘democracy sausage’ (from the traditional barbecues held at polling locations), the kids having a bit of a sugar cake or what have you, and voting.”
“In the event that the people of Australia voted to stop the chaos and voted for action on climate change, we will be ready to hit the ground from tomorrow.”
Morrison, meanwhile, warned voters against voting Labor: “It’s not the time to engage in Bill Shorten’s big, risky project of big taxes and big spending.”
Climate change emerged as a major factor in the election, with the Liberal Party clinging to the coal industry, despite turning public opinion and a season of record floods, wildfires and droughts.
As well as picking new lawmakers for the 150-seat House of Representatives, Australians were also choosing 76-members of the Senate.
Ahead of the vote, polls showed Labor winning 51%-49%, but with a complex preferential electoral system, an upset is always possible. Two weeks ago, Labor were polling 48% to 52%.
There are about 17 million eligible voters in Australia and voting is compulsory.
mm,aw/jlw (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)