Australians could be forced to wait until the end of the week to find out who is in charge of their government after a knife-edge national election raised the prospect of a hung parliament.
The gamble by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to call a rare early election may have failed, with his conservative Liberal Party-led coalition on track to lose a swathe of seats in the House of Representatives — and potentially control of the country.
Mr Turnbull said he was pinning his hopes of maintaining a majority government on mail-in and early ballots that traditionally favour the conservatives.
“I remain quietly confident that a majority coalition government will be returned at this election when the counting is completed,” Mr Turnbull told reporters.
“While the count will take a number of days, I can promise all Australians that we will dedicate our efforts to ensuring that the state of new parliament is resolved without division or rancor.”
The government was concerned that any perception of instability while the count was resolved could harm Australia’s triple-A credit rating, he said.
Parties need to hold at least 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives to form a government.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten did not speculate on a Labor victory, but celebrated the strong swing to his party just three years after it was convincingly dumped from power in the last election.
“What I’m very sure of is that whilst we don’t know who the winner was, there’s clearly one loser: Malcolm Turnbull’s agenda for Australia and his efforts to cut Medicare,” Mr Shorten said, referring to Australia’s universal health care system.
Given the close result, just two possibilities remain: Mr Turnbull’s coalition will win by the slimmest of margins, or there will be a hung parliament.
Mr Shorten and Mr Turnbull said they had both contacted the five independent lawyers who could be called on to support a minority government.
Mr Turnbull called the “double dissolution” because the house and the senate are dissolved — in a bid to break a legislative deadlock over a bill that would have created a construction industry watchdog.
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