Aussie Election Hangs in Balance as Slow Vote Count Proceeds

  • Prime Minister Turnbull’s coalition still short of majority
  • Talks already under way for potential minority government

Australia faces days of political paralysis as vote counting continued after a weekend election that failed to produce a clear winner and raised questions over Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s future.

Both Turnbull’s Liberal-National coalition and the Bill Shorten-led Labor opposition are currently short of the 76 lower-house seats needed for a majority government. As the Australian Electoral Commission began Tuesday to count postal votes, talks are under way between the major parties and independent lawmakers who may hold the balance of power.

The coalition is leading the vote count in 67 of those seats while Labor is ahead in 71, according to the AEC. An Australian Broadcasting Corp. projection has Turnbull leading by 68 seats to 67, with independents and minor parties in front in 5 seats and 10 districts in doubt.

The government remains “hopeful” it will win a majority as postal votes tend to favor the incumbent, Attorney General George Brandis said on ABC radio. Turnbull told reporters Tuesday that three million votes were still to be counted.

“We will know within a matter of days whether the remaining closely fought seats have been won by the government or not,” Brandis said. As criticism of Turnbull’s performance during the eight-week election campaign mounts, Brandis said coalition colleagues should hold fire in case it weakened their “bargaining position” with independents.

Shorten has called on the prime minister to resign. “This guy is like the David Cameron of the Southern Hemisphere,” he told reporters Monday. “What he did, he leads a divided party, he has had an election and he has delivered an inferior and unstable outcome.”

While the government expected a swing against it as punishment for policy inertia, the magnitude of the voter rebellion surprised pundits and lawmakers alike, with the two main parties getting their lowest primary vote since 1943. Lacking a strong mandate, whoever leads Australia could be hamstrung in efforts to revitalize the world’s 12th-largest economy and forced to negotiate with individual Senators in the upper house.

Australia’s dollar fell, halting a two-day advance, with the country’s central bank standing pat at a policy meeting on Tuesday to assess the implications of the indecisive election and ongoing Brexit fallout. The currency declined 0.4 percent to 75.1 U.S. cents as of 2:44 p.m. in Sydney.

Voters are weary of political infighting and leadership coups within both main political groupings. The country has seen six prime ministers in the past eight years alone.

“There is no doubt that there is a level of disillusionment with politics, with government and with the major parties, our own included,” Turnbull said Tuesday.

Australians waiting for a result need to be patient, according to the AEC.

“The figures will move, clearly, but I’m not sure I’d say they’ll move quickly,” AEC spokesman Evan Ekin-Smyth said. “Unless the postal votes that come in lean heavily one way or another, it’s not going to take a day or two to get clarity -- it’s going to take longer than that.”

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