Australia woke up on Sunday (July 3) to the prospect of a hung parliament and a minority government, after a general election that was too close to call.
Vote counting has been paused and was so tight that no party could claim a majority. Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull’s Liberal Party-led coalition may need the support of independents and smaller parties to remain in power.
A clearer result isn’t expected until at least Tuesday, when vote counting resumes. The process could take a week or more, and the coalition will rule under caretaker provisions in the interim.
Some will find the headache painfully familiar. Australia last faced a hung parliament in 2010, when then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s ruling Labour Party had to secure an alliance with the minor Greens party and three independent lawmakers to form a fragile minority government. Before that, the last hung parliament was in 1940.
“I remain quietly confident that a majority coalition government will be returned at this election when the counting is completed,” Turnbull told reporters.
But his main challenger, Labour party leader Bill Shorten, said while Saturday’s election failed to produced a clear winner, there was one clear loser: the prime minister’s reform agenda, which includes tax cuts for companies.
“Last night was an historic night. The Labor party is most certainly back,” Shorten said.
billshortenmp</a>: Malcolm Turnbull's agenda the clear loser <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ausvotes?src=hash">#ausvotes</a> <a href="https://t.co/pbCgBxsvFQ">https://t.co/pbCgBxsvFQ</a></p>— ABC News (abcnews) July 3, 2016
Turnbull’s gamble backfires
As of Sunday, the “Australian Electoral Commission” said Shorten’s Labour Party was leading in 71 seats, Turnbull’s coalition in 67 seats, and small parties or independents in six seats. Six seats were still in the balance. Parties need to hold at least 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives to form a government.
The shift to the opposition and independent groups is a major blow for Turnbull, who ousted Tony Abbott as prime minister in a dramatic party-room coup last year and called the early election in a bid to strengthen his leadership and end a decade of political instability.
“I just feel that the country has turned against Malcolm because of what he did to Tony Abbott. I think they’re fed up with what goes on in politics,” said Sydney resident Debbie Moldovan.
Last week Turnbull invoked the turmoil Brexit caused on financial markets to call on Australians to vote for stability – after the nation saw four prime ministers in the past three years.
“I think what we need now is a stable majority government particularly given some of the uncertainties that exist at the moment in the world,” said another voter, Tom Curnow.
If Turnbull’s coalition fails to form a government, it would be the first time in 85 years that a ruling party in Australia loses power after its first term in office.
Adding to the political drama, the Australian Federal Police said they were looking into thousands of text messages sent to voters on Saturday by the opposition Labour Party purporting to be from the state healthcare service Medicare, and alleging that Turnbull planned to privatise the service.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the message “an extraordinary act of dishonesty” in a speech to party faithful on election night. “It’s a pretty shameful episode in Australian political history,” he said.
Labour’s Queensland state branch said it had sent the messages but that it had not intended to make them appear as sent by Medicare. Labour made the prospect of privatisation of Medicare a key point of attack in its election campaign.
A Sky News exit poll showed 72 percent of voters rated health and Medicare as very important issues in deciding their vote. The poll also showed 62 percent of voters believed the coalition would win the election.
Australia Top News: Fake Medicare texts source outed – POLICE have confirmed they are investigating the source … https://t.co/352VgMpSiq— Thor (SydneyAffairs) (@SydneyAffairs) July 3, 2016
SBS News (@SBSNews) July 2, 2016