Turnbull faces obstacles despite re-election

Narrow victory raises questions about leadership, reform mandate

SYDNEY • Australia's ruling conservative government has finally won re-election after a painstaking count of the ballots cast in the July 2 polls.

But vote-counting continued into its eighth day yesterday, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Liberal/National coalition expected to win two of the five seats still undeclared.

That will enable it to form a majority government, after having already won 74 of the 150 Lower House seats that were up for grabs.

Labor, which now has 66 seats under its belt and is expected to win three more, conceded defeat.

Five seats went to independents and smaller parties.

The coalition went into the election with 90 seats in the House, compared with Labor's 55.

The latest results, with about 80 per cent of the votes counted, have raised questions about Mr Turnbull's leadership and left him without a strong mandate for much-needed economic and fiscal reforms.

The need for Mr Turnbull to court the support of those outside his party led him to stress that he valued every parliamentarian's contribution, even though he had earlier warned Australians not to vote for minor parties and independents during the election campaign.

"It is vital that this Parliament works," Mr Turnbull said yesterday. He added that Australia faced numerous challenges, including a rocky transition away from a dependence on mining-driven growth.

"Every member of the House and the Senate deserves respect because they have been elected by the Australian people," he said.

Labor leader Bill Shorten pledged earlier yesterday in his concession speech that his centre- left party wanted to work well with the government.

Even so, Mr Turnbull faces an uphill task to get the Senate to pass two Bills related to restoring a construction union watchdog.

He had used the Senate's blocking of the Bills to trigger the double-dissolution election, but could now face an even more hostile Upper House amid concerns that the close result and higher number of lawmakers who are not from the two major parties could cause gridlock.

There are also question marks over whether his multibillion-dollar plan to cut corporate tax- announced in the May Budget - would get support from the smaller parties and independents, who were elected on more populist agendas.

The nation has been politically paralysed since the July 2 ballot failed to produce a clear winner, forcing electoral officials to comb through postal votes to determine the outcome.

"There is a difference between a small majority and a minority," said Dr Martin Drum, a senior political lecturer at Notre Dame University in Perth. "A small majority means more stability," he added.

Australia's politics has been turbulent in recent years, with a "revolving door" of prime ministers in charge. Four different leaders have served since 2013 as parties removed sitting prime ministers.

Mr Turnbull became the nation's fourth prime minister since 2013, when he beat Liberal leader Tony Abbott in a party vote in September last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Turnbull faces obstacles despite re-election'. Print Edition | Subscribe