Australia heads towards hung parliament (Fourth Lead)

August 21st, 2010 - 10:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Aug 21 (IANS) Australia was heading towards a hung parliament Saturday with the ruling Labor Party having only a slight edge over the opposition coalition, even as Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she would “continue to fight to form the government”.
With 72 percent of the vote counted, Gillard’s Labor Party has 50.6 percent of the vote against the opposition coalition’s 49.4 percent.

The Australian Electoral Commission officially confirmed 60 seats for Labor, 58 for the opposition coalition and three seats for independent candidates and one for the Greens. It had 28 seats still in doubt.

In New South Wales, there was a swing of 4.9 percent away from Labor, while in Queensland, there was a 5.6 percent swing against Labor. In Western Australia, the opposition coalition was receiving a swing of 2.53 percent.

In Victoria, Labor experienced a swing to it of 0.94 percent, while in South Australia, the opposition has a slight swing of 0.7 percent, according to Australian news agency AAP.

Gillard said late Saturday she will continue to run “a strong and stable government” as the nation’s caretaker leader until the final result of the cliffhanger election is known.

Fourteen million voters enrolled to have a final say on who becomes prime minister. But the final outcome will be delayed by two weeks as around 2.35 million voters cast votes by post, the Australian Electoral Commission said.

According to Australian electoral law, postal votes cannot be finalised until 13 days after polling day. The counting of votes cast outside the voter’s electorate, and postal votes, will not begin until Sunday.

Gillard made a pitch to the three independents, whose support she will almost certainly need to hold on to power, saying she respected the views of all members of parliament, the Age reported.

She also congratulated Opposition leader Tony Abbott, saying he had been a “formidable” opponent and was clearly made of “stern stuff”.

“I will keep fighting. We will continue to fight to form a government in this country,” she said.

“To those of you who have kept the faith, there are anxious days ahead. The fight for our positive plan isn’t over yet.”

Meanwhile, opposition leader Tony Abbott said the Labor government “had lost its legitimacy” and that he “felt humbled by the responsibilities that could lie ahead”.

“The Coalition is back in business,” he said. “This is a night for pride in our achievements, for satisfaction in the good results that we have achieved, but measured reflection for the magnitude of the task ahead.”

He claimed 400,000 more people had voted for the coalition than for Labor.

The independent MPs, who are likely to hold the balance of power in a hung parliament, said they would side with whichever party that can provide the most stable government.

New South Wales MP Rob Oakeshott said they would have to take into account the make-up of the Senate.

Oakeshott, who was re-elected to the seat of Lyne with a massive increase in votes, will be joined by returning New England MP Tony Windsor and Queensland’s Bob Katter.

He said he would meet with Windsor and Katter as soon as possible. “More than likely that will be Monday when we know the playing field of exactly what has happened.”

Earlier, exit polls predicted a neck-and-neck result in the elections.

A Sky News exit poll, conducted in 30 key marginal seats Saturday, showed the vote went 51 percent to Labor and 49 percent to the conservatives.

A Nine Network exit poll has also forecast a close win for the incumbent prime minister, with her Labor Party picking up 52 percent of the overall vote to 48 percent for the opposition.

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