Australia could see fifth prime minister in three years as polls close

Australia could see fifth prime minister in three years as polls close

Polls have closed across Australia with early counting of the general elections results suggesting the ruling conservative coalition is at risk of losing several seats.

After years of political turmoil, leaders of the major parties are each promising to bring stability to a government long mired in chaos.

The elections, which pit the conservative coalition government against the centre-left Labor Party, cap a volatile period in the nation's politics.

Australian political parties can change their leaders under certain conditions and have done so in recent years with unprecedented frequency.

Should Labor win, its leader Bill Shorten would become Australia's fifth prime minister in three years. The winner will likely be known late on Saturday.

A poll published in The Australian newspaper on Saturday showed the coalition leading by 50.5% to Labor's 49.5%.

The Newspoll was based on nationwide interviews with 4,135 voters conducted between Tuesday and Friday, and has a 3% margin of error.

The so-called revolving-door prime ministership, coupled with global instability wrought by Britain's recent vote to leave the European Union, prompted promises by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that sticking with the status quo was the safer choice.

"In an uncertain world, Labor offers only greater uncertainty," Mr Turnbull warned in one of his final pitches to voters this week. "They have nothing to say about jobs, growth or our economic future."

Labor, meanwhile, has sought throughout the eight-week campaign to cast Mr Turnbull's Liberal Party as deeply divided, with Mr Shorten saying: "You cannot have stability without unity."

Selling stability is a tough job for either party, both of which have been marred by infighting in recent years.

Mr Shorten played a key role in ousting two of the Labor Party's own prime ministers in the space of three years, and Mr Turnbull himself ousted Tony Abbott as prime minister in an internal party showdown less than a year ago.

Up until 2007, conservative John Howard served as prime minister for nearly 12 years.

Many Aussies who lined up at the polls were weary of the constant change.

Morag McCrone, who voted for Labor at a polling station in Sydney, acknowledged her choice could lead to yet another new prime minister, but could not bring herself to vote for Mr Turnbull's party.

"Internationally, it's embarrassing," Ms McCrone said of the endless stream of leadership changes. "It's a bit like ancient Rome at times, really."

Sydney resident Beau Reid, who also voted for Labor, agreed.

"I'm getting a little bit sick of it," Mr Reid said. "Not to say that John Howard was a great prime minister, but it was good to have someone who was at the helm for a period that wasn't two (or) three years."

Though the race is tight, polls suggest that Labor will not be able to gain the 21 seats it needs to form a majority government in the 150-seat House of Representatives.

Labor currently holds 55 seats, the conservative coalition has 90, and minor parties and independents have five.

Polls have also shown that the public's frustration with Labor and the coalition may prompt an unusually high number of votes for minor parties, such as the Greens.

That raises the prospect that neither Labor nor the coalition will end up with enough seats to win an outright majority, resulting in a hung parliament.


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