SYDNEY • Embattled Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pulled within striking distance of the votes needed to form a narrow majority government, in a cliffhanger election that has left the country in limbo and his leadership in doubt.
"The government is still on track to form a majority government," Treasurer Scott Morrison told Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) radio.
The latest projections by ABC gave Mr Turnbull's Liberal-National coalition 72 out of 150 Lower House seats, and the centre-left Labor opposition 66 seats, with 81 per cent of the vote counted.
Independents and minor parties won five seats, while seven were too close to call.
Both major parties are short of the 76 seats needed to form a majority government in the House of Representatives, and negotiations are under way with the independents.
"It's still either a very, very narrow coalition majority or a hung Parliament," said ABC polling expert Antony Green.
Electoral officials are counting 1.5 million postal and absentee votes that will be crucial to the result of last Saturday's polls, which saw a swing against Mr Turnbull's conservative coalition government and the rise of populist independents.
A final reckoning may not be known for days or possibly weeks, leaving the country in a political vacuum.
The surge in support for independents, combined with rules that make it easier for smaller parties to win Senate seats in a so-called double dissolution of Parliament, will likely make it impossible for Mr Turnbull to push through policies including a A$50 billion (S$50.6 billion) corporate tax break over 10 years.
Even if the coalition wins a narrow majority in the Lower House, Mr Turnbull would then have to shepherd legislation through an even more intransigent Senate.
But Mr Morrison said the government would not abandon its economic policies.
"We will go forward with our legislation plan for the Budget, certainly, if we return as a majority government," he said.
The elections were meant to end the political turmoil that delivered Australia four prime ministers over the past three years.
Instead, it has left Mr Turnbull's authority in tatters less than a year after he ousted then Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a party-room coup.