SYDNEY • Australia's political parties began horsetrading yesterday to break an anticipated parliamentary deadlock after a dramatic poll failed to produce a clear winner, raising the prospect of prolonged political and economic instability.
The close vote last Saturday leaves Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's centre-right Liberal Party-led government in a precarious position, potentially needing the support of independent and minor parties.
It has also opened the door to the possibility, albeit less likely, that the main opposition Labor Party could win enough backing from the smaller parties to form the government, although Mr Turnbull said yesterday he remained "quietly confident" of returning his coalition to power for another three-year term.
"I can promise all Australians that we will dedicate our efforts to ensuring that the state of new Parliament is resolved without division or rancour," Mr Turnbull, who accused Labor of waging a dirty tricks campaign, told reporters in Sydney.
Police said they were considering whether to investigate thousands of text messages sent to voters last Saturday by the Labor Party purporting to be from state healthcare service Medicare, warning that the service would be privatised by a coalition government.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said Australians had rejected Mr Turnbull's mandate for reform like healthcare cuts and a corporate tax break.
The election was meant to end a period of political turmoil in which Australia has had four prime ministers in three years.
Instead it has left a power vacuum in Canberra and fuelled talk of a challenge to Mr Turnbull's leadership of the Liberal Party, less than a year after he ousted then Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a party-room coup.
The uncertainty is likely to spook markets when they reopen today, with analysts warning that Australia's triple-A credit rating could be at risk and predicting a fall in the Australian dollar and the share market.
Vote counting could take a week or more. Electoral Commission projections give the coalition 67 seats in the 150-seat Lower House, against Labor's 71 and five to independents and the Greens Party. A further seven seats were in the balance. That leaves independents, whose election campaigns ranged from economic protectionism to anti-gambling, as kingmakers.
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