Australian election cliff-hanger leaves nation in limbo

SYDNEY – Australia is in political limbo after voters failed to hand Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull the stability he craved in calling an election, with the nation now facing the likelihood of a hung parliament, with various independents holding the balance of power.

Malcolm Turnbull, the fifth Australian prime minister in a decade, urged voters to help end the country’s political churn by delivering “strong, stable majority government” when they cast their ballots in the general election on July 2nd. But Australians seem to have ignored him.

If the coalition fails to form a government, it would be the first time in 85 years an Australian ruling party has lost power after its first term in office.

After a host of postal votes were added to running totals Sunday, his Liberal/National coalition had 65 seats to Labor’s 67, the Greens one and independents four, results showed.

That leaves 13 seats still too close to call with 76 needed to rule outright in the 150-seat House of Representatives.

A final outcome is not expected until Tuesday with millions of postal and absentee votes yet to be processed, with experts saying these traditionally favour the incumbent.

Turnbull said on Sunday 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 rancor,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney. He said he had already spoken to the smaller parties – or crossbench – that may ultimately decide who governs. “We always seek to work constructively with all of the members of the parliament as indeed we have sought to do in the past,” he said.

Bill Shorten, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, said Australians had clearly rejected Turnbull’s mandate for major economic changes like cuts to healthcare and A$50 billion ($37 billion) in corporate tax cuts over 10 years. “What I’m very sure of is that while we don’t know who the winner was, there is clearly one loser: Malcolm Turnbull’s agenda for Australia and his efforts to cut Medicare,” Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.

Independent politician Andrew Wilkie said Turnbull had called him just to “open lines of communication”. He said voters turned away from the major parties at the poll because there was a growing “political ruling class obsessed with their self-interest, out of touch with the community”.

Vote counting from Saturday’s poll could take a week or more, and the coalition will rule under caretaker provisions in the interim.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull casts his vote for the general election with his wife Lucy at the Double Bay Public School in Sydney, Australia, July 2, 2016.
What is a hung parliament?

The party (or coalition of parties) that has a majority in the House of Representatives forms the government.

There are 150 seats in the House of Representatives. To form government in their own right, the Liberal/National Coalition or Labor requires 76 seats. If neither can form government in their own right, we have a “hung parliament”.

There is nothing in the Constitution to deal with the situation in which neither side can form a majority government. Instead, these matters are resolved by “conventions”. These conventions are the unwritten rules, practices and procedures that Australia inherited from the United Kingdom, upon which our system of government is based.