SYDNEY - Australia’s ruling Coalition has suffered heavy losses at a general election on Saturday (July 2) in a surprising result that could leave it without a parliamentary majority.
As counting continues, Australia’s Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, appeared likely to retain his position but this was not guaranteed and a result may not be known until Sunday.
Official electoral data for the House of Representatives showed a 3.2 per cent swing away from the Liberal-led coalition government as officials clocked off for the evening with almost 10 million votes counted, reported Reuters.
On official projections issued as counting was wound up early Sunday morning, the coalition was expected to hold 68 seats, against the opposition Labor Party’s 70 seats and five to independents and the Greens Party.
With just seven seats left to be determined in the House of Representatives, it was unclear if the coalition would win enough to form a government without an alliance with small parties and independents to get a majority.
The outcome was a poor result that will come as a setback for Mr Turnbull.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott told Liberal Party followers it was a “difficult night” after he successfully retained his Sydney seat.
“Friends, we will not know the outcome of this election tonight, indeed, we may not know it for some days to come,” a jubilant Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Labor Party, told supporters in Melbourne just before midnight.
“But there is one thing for sure – the Labor Party is back.”
Still, Mr Turnbull said he was confident of forming a government.
“It is a very, very close count,” the 61-year-old leader of the Liberal/National coalition told the party faithful at coalition headquarters in Sydney after Shorten spoke.
“I can report that based on the advice I have from the party officials, we can have every confidence that we will form a coalition majority government in the next parliament.”
Fighting his first election after deposing former leader Tony Abbott last September, Mr Turnbull had entered the race as a clear favourite against Mr Shorten.
The ABC’s election analyst was predicting that the Coalition will win 75 of 150 Lower House seats but said the results were still up in the air. The Coalition currently has 90 seats in the lower house and must win 76 seats to retain power or risk having to form an alliance with a third party to form a government.
The result was so close, Attorney-General George Brandis said it would not be called on Saturday evening with just a couple of hours before counting officials clock-off, Reuters reported. There is no counting scheduled for Sunday, with counting for the Senate to resume on Monday and the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
“First term governments always, always, have a swing against them. We know that,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said, AFP reported, putting a brave face on the results.
Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said Turnbull’s leadership was in peril. “I think the real question is for Malcolm Turnbull – can he remain leader with the loss of so many seats?” she told the Nine Network.
Mr Turnbull, a former investment banker, campaigned on a pledge to ensure political and economic stability and pursue growth in the technology sector. He has promised large-scale cuts to business taxes over the coming four years.
"There has never been a more exciting time to vote for a stable, majority coalition government and an economic plan that secures our future," he told reporters after casting his vote on Saturday.
The Opposition leader, Mr Bill Shorten, ran a strong campaign and appears to have helped to curb the Coalition’s strong majority.
He promised to boost health and education spending and to curb tax concessions for property investors.
“The cuts are severe and they are real," Mr Shorten said on Saturday, referring to the Coalition's lower health and education spending.
Labor appeared to make strong gains in the states of New South Wales and Tasmania – both of which have state Coalition governments, a factor that can prompt voters to support a different party federally.
The election on Saturday follows an eight-week campaign, during which both leaders avoided any serious blunders.
The votes in the Upper House could take some days to count.
Several minor parties are expected to do well, including The Greens and a new party led by popular independent MP Nick Xenophon.
Early results indicated that right-wing firebrand Pauline Hanson, who famously condemned Asian immigrants as an MP in the 1990s, could make a return as an upper house MP.
As results came in, she predicted her One Nation party could win two or three Upper House seats.
Australia has compulsory voting for citizens aged 18 and over. There were 15.7 million people registered to vote at this election.