SYDNEY – Australia’s ruling Conservative coalition could not win enough seats to form a government, two television stations speculated on Saturday, after the government lost ground to climate-centric separatists and smaller parties.
The struggle of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition, and to some extent the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, raises the possibility of a hanging parliament and a period of uncertainty when a record number of postal votes are counted.
“Right now, I don’t see the coalition gaining a majority in this number,” Anthony Green, an election analyst with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, said in a live broadcast.
Sky News estimates that the ruling coalition “cannot win the majority.”
The center-left Labor gave a decent lead in opinion polls after nine years of opposition, although recent polls show that the Liberal-National government has narrowed the gap in the final spread of the six-week campaign.
A Newspole poll of Australian newspapers on election day showed that the Labor lead over the ruling coalition fell to 53-47 points on a two-party basis, with the votes of unsuccessful candidates being redistributed between the top two contestants.
But growing dissatisfaction with policy, candidate selection and integrity has led voters to turn away from both major parties.
In several affluent Liberal-dominated constituencies, the so-called “Till Independent” is campaigning for action against climate change.
Three volunteers working for Till Independent Monique Ryan, who is running against long-time Liberal seat treasurer Josh Friedenberg in Melbourne’s Cowang, said they joined Ryan’s campaign because they were concerned about the climate for their children and grandchildren.
“For me, this election actually looks promising,” Charlotte Forwood, a working mother of three adult children, told Reuters.
With 82% of the vote counted, Ryan was expected to win 53% of the two parties’ preferred votes.
Early returns suggest that Greens also made ground, especially in some urban centers, while billionaire Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and Pauline Hanson’s right-wing One Nation also appear to have won votes at the expense of both major parties.
Greens leader Adam Bandet, who holds the Melbourne seat in his hometown, says climate is a major problem for voters.
“There have been attempts from Labor and the Liberals to bury it, and we have been very clear about the need to tackle the climate by tackling coal and gas.”
Morrison and Albanese previously voted for them in Sydney after a whistle-stop tour across the marginal seats over the last two days of the campaign, influenced by rising living costs, climate change and integrity.
As labor focused on rising inflation and wage growth, Morrison turned the country’s lowest unemployment in nearly half a century into the focus of the last hour of his campaign.
In the outgoing parliament, the Liberal-National Coalition won 76 of the 151 lower house seats, with Labor holding 68 seats, including seven smaller parties and independent members.
Voting was compulsory and more than half of the ballots were cast by Friday evening, with a record 8 million initial personal and postal votes, the Australian Election Commission said.
The commission warned that a clear winner could not emerge immediately if there was a close contest due to the time required to count the nearly 3 million postal votes.
(Reporting by Renju Jose, John Myer and Byron Kay in Sydney and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Written by Lincoln Feast; Edited by Richard Pulin, William Mallard and Ross Russell)