Australia heads for hung parliament

 

Australia looked to be heading for its first hung parliament in 70 years today after the closest general election for decades.

With vote counting still going on, analysts were predicting 73 seats for the opposition Liberal coalition, 72 for the ruling Labor Party, one for the Greens and four independents.

That would leave Labor leader Julia Gillard and the Liberal coalition headed by Tony Abbott both short of the 76 seats needed for an overall majority, and the balance of power with a handful of MPs.

Ms Gillard told supporters she would remain the nation’s caretaker leader during the “anxious days ahead”.

“Obviously this is too close to call. We will continue to fight to form government in this country,” she said.

Mr Abbott said he would immediately begin negotiations with independents to form a government.

The London-born politician said it was clear Labor had lost its “majority and legitimacy”.

“We stand ready to govern and we stand ready to offer the Australian people stable, predictable and competent government,” he told supporters at Liberal campaign headquarters in Sydney.

Australia last had a hung parliament in 1940.

Two independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, said they would side with whichever party could provide the most stable government.

A third independent, Bob Katter, said he would lend support to the side that pledged the best deal for his constituents. All three are former members of conservative parties.

The election results were expected to be the closest since 1961, when a Liberal government retained power with a single seat.

As of midnight, both Labor and the Liberal coalition had secured 71 seats, with four results still to declare.

Speaking to supporters at her Labor Party headquarters in Melbourne yesterday, Ms Gillard recalled former American president Bill Clinton’s post-election comment that “the people have spoken, but it is going to take a little while to determine exactly what they have said”.

The 48-year-old, who called a snap election after controversially toppling Kevin Rudd as prime minister, said: “Obviously this is too close to call. There are many seats where the result is undecided and where it will take a number of days of counting to determine the result.

“Friends, as you know, in a democracy every vote is important. Every vote must be counted and we will see that happen.”

In her speech, she also congratulated Mr Abbott for his campaign, saying: “He has been a formidable advocate for his side of politics.” Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott clashed over the issue of republicanism during the election campaign.

Last week, she called for the country to cut royal links when the British Queen’s reign ended, while Mr Abbott, who heads the conservative opposition coalition, saw no need to change the status quo.

The closely fought build-up to the election was compared to the weeks leading up to Britain’s general election, with neither leader landing knock-out blows in TV debates.

And now, with no clear victor and the winners of just a few seats still to be decided, it seems the Australian election may echo Britain’s in more ways than one.

PA