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Australian election counting resumes but winner may not be known for weeks

Published 05/07/2016

Malcolm Turnbull has refused to resign as Australia's prime minister while election counting continues (AP)
Malcolm Turnbull has refused to resign as Australia's prime minister while election counting continues (AP)

Vote counting resumed in Australia's neck-and-neck election, three days after the contest failed to deliver an immediate winner and left the nation's leadership in doubt.

But with officials warning that the victor may not be known for days, if not weeks, many were left wondering why it was taking so long.

Counting was suspended in the early hours of Sunday morning while the ballot papers were secured and catalogued in a bid to avoid a repeat of a fiasco in 2013 when the mislaying of 1,370 ballot papers forced a re-run of the senate election in Western Australia state.

The authorities have to wait until 13 days after the July 2 election date for the final postal votes to arrive.

The Australian Electoral Commission said 400,000 of an expected 1.5 million postal votes had yet to arrive by Tuesday.

Neither Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conservative Liberal Party-led coalition nor opposition leader Bill Shorten's centre-left Labor Party won the 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives needed to form a government - raising the prospect of a hung parliament.

David Glance, director of the University of Western Australia's Centre for Software Practice, said the political standstill demonstrated a need for online electronic voting.

He said wh ile many countries vote with a ballot paper and pencil, Australia is a special case because compulsory voting led to extraordinarily large voter turnouts.

And Australian politics had become more volatile, with bigger swings and more alternative candidates to the major parties, he said.

Australia's complex and unique voting system, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference, also made calculating winners more labour-intensive, while the country has had recent experience of lost ballot papers.

As of Tuesday, Australian Broadcasting Corporation election analysts - considered among the most reliable - were predicting that the coalition had 68 seats, Labor 67 and the minor parties and independents were leading in five seats. Another 10 seats were in doubt.

While hung parliaments are rare in Australia, the last occurred at an election only six years ago. Key independents then took 17 days from the election date before declaring they would support a Labor minority government which became chaotic and unpopular. It was wiped out in a landslide election in 2013.

Ratings agencies fear the election deadlock could threaten Australia's chances of balancing its books by 2020-21 and therefore also threaten its rare AAA credit rating.

Mr Turnbull, who become prime minister 11 months ago because his predecessor was unpopular, said on Tuesday that he would not take Mr Shorten's advice by resigning as David Cameron did over Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

"The count is continuing and we remain confident that we will secure enough seats to have a majority in the parliament," he said.

Mr Shorten, who could become Australia's fifth prime minister in three years, said Mr Turnbull had "promised stability and taken Australia on a rollercoaster ride".

"He wanted a mandate for stability and he's given us instability," Mr Shorten said.


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