Australia's voters grant Howard fourth term

 

Australia's conservative Prime Minister Mr John Howard, a key US ally and supporter of the Iraq war, celebrated his election win  today after voters enjoying the fruits of a strong economy gave him another term.

Mr  Howard's ruling coalition won a fourth consecutive term yesterday  with what appeared certain to be an increased majority. In December he will become Australia's second-longest serving prime minister.

"This nation stands on the threshold of a new era of great achievement ... a nation which can achieve anything it wants, if its sets its mind to it," Mr Howard told supporters at a Sydney hotel.

Members of his Liberal/National coalition said the government's strong economic record had clearly tipped the balance against opposition Labour and its 43-year-old leader, Mr Mark Latham.
   
Mr Howard's victory ensures that Australian troops will remain in Iraq. Mr Latham wanted Australia's 850 troops serving in and around Iraq home by Christmas.
  
Mr Howard's closest ally, US President George W Bush has called to congratulate him.

Australian voters focused more on domestic concerns such as interest rates during the six-week campaign rather than Mr Howard's unstinting support for the United States or Labour's preference for closer ties with Asia.

Mr Howard's coalition held 82 seats in the 150-seat parliament after the 2001 election, but Australian Broadcasting Corp. forecasts put the government's likely new majority as high as 87 seats, with Labour likely to drop back four to 60.
  
With almost 78 per cent of the 13 million votes counted by early today, official Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) figures recorded a swing of almost two per cent to the government.