Australians vote in cliff-hanger election (Lead, changing dateline)August 21st, 2010 - 9:36 am ICT by IANS
Sydney, Aug 21 (DPA) Voting began Saturday in a parliamentary election that Australians expect will be decided by a handful of votes in a few marginal seats because the rival parties are evenly split.
Opinion polls give Tony Abbott’s conservatives the chance of an upset victory over Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor Party.
The latest survey has them running neck-and-neck after the
incumbent led for most of a campaign that has centred on domestic issues.
Both are middle-of-the-road parties with convergent foreign
policy. Personalities rather than policies will have helped an estimated 10 percent of the 14 million voters make up their minds in the final days of the campaign.
Gillard, the first female prime minister, is a 48-year-old former law firm partner who toppled Kevin Rudd in a sensational putsch two months ago.
She has stressed her party’s success in keeping the economy out of recession during the global financial crisis but is weighed down by outrage over the brutal removal of Rudd.
“What we know from the opinion polls is this: there’s a real risk that Abbott would be prime minister on Sunday,” Gillard said on the eve of the vote.
Abbott, a personable but erratic former trainee priest, has surprised colleagues by running a polished and disciplined campaign.
His mantra is the need to retire Labor’s debt, get the budget out of deficit and staunch the flow of mostly Middle Eastern asylum seekers sailing across from Indonesia.
Liberal Party leader since December, Abbott was a minister in John Howard’s 11-year administration that Rudd swept from office in 2007. The 52-year-old fitness fanatic has struggled to present himself as a moderniser rather than a throw-back.
He needs to win 17 seats from Labor to secure the 76 seats needed to hold a majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives. Independents mean Labor would lose its majority if it shed 13 seats.
“I want to say that we’d do a better job,” Abbott said. “And I think that what we’d do starting on day one is we’d end the waste, we’d pay back the debt, we’d stop the big new taxes and we’d stop the boats.”
The prospect of a hung parliament and minority government has rattled markets.
Commonwealth Bank economist Craig James said either scenario “could cause foreign investors to trim their exposure to Australia, putting downward pressure on the share market and the Australian dollar.”
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Tags: asylum seekers, australians, conservatives, foreign policy, global financial crisis, incumbent, independents, john howard, julia gillard, kevin rudd, liberal party leader, mantra, marginal seats, opinion polls, outrage, parliamentary election, putsch, recession, rival parties, tony abbott