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Leaders woo independents as hung parliament looms

Independent lawmakers are set to hold the balance of power in Australia after a cliff-hanger general election produced the first hung parliament in 70 years.


The balance of power in Australia may hang on independent lawmakers after an inconclusive general election in which neither of the leading parties looked likely to secure a majority of seats in parliament.

Late Sunday, the Australian Electoral Commission said Labor had won 70 seats, the same as the opposition coalition, the rest being held by independents and one by the Greens. Six seats remain in doubt.

Between the two main parties, Labor had 50.67% of the vote with the coalition at 49.33%.

Incumbent Prime Minister Julia Gillard and conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott were Sunday both trying to cobble together support from smaller parties and independent MPs to form a coalition in the face of a hung parliament.
“We still don’t know what course these negotiations will take,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Fanou Filali. “But the issues will certainly be rural, such as water management or climate change, because most of the independents are from rural constituencies.”
Independent Tony Windsor said he and his fellow independents would discuss the position on Sunday to decide whether to negotiate a deal as a group or individually.
“Whichever side it is, we need to have some stability and maintenance of stability so that the government can actually work,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.
“We might end up back at the polls,” he added, referring to the possibility of another election if a support pact cannot be negotiated.
Analysts believe it could be two weeks before the final results of Saturday's poll are known and the newly empowered independents are unlikely to make a decision until counting of all votes, including postal ballots, had finished in all the undecided seats.
"We're in uncharted waters here. We haven't had a situation like this in Australia for 70 years so there are no normal procedures," political analyst Norman Abjorensen, of the Australian National University, told AFP.
"We're probably looking at a short-term government. This is a recipe for a lot of instability, a lot of uncertainty," he said.

Opposition comeback

The opposition Liberal/National coalition defied its own expectations Saturday, achieving a 5% swing which took it to within a whisker of a parliamentary majority.
Three years ago they were trounced in a decisive Labor victory.
But despite their comeback, they still look certain to fall short of the 76 seats required to form a government.
Following careful negotiations, the party which can get enough independents on side will have to present their case to Quentin Bryce, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Australia.

But because any majority is going to be particularly narrow, whichever party does form a majority will still be deadlocked when it comes to forming policy because of the closeness of voting seats in the Australian lower House of Representatives.

Labor leader Gillard unseated elected prime minister Kevin Rudd in a coup just three weeks before the elections were called.
While she looked set for a comfortable election win upon her arrival to power, her poll ratings soon slipped amid a stuttering start to her premiership and lingering unease about the manner of her predecessor’s ouster.
Australia's first female prime minister insisted that as her party had won the largest share of the popular vote, it was Labor that had been given the mandate to govern.
Abbott disagreed: "When the government lost its majority, it also lost its legitimacy."


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