Australia’s conservative government moves into election-winning position

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Liberal-led conservative government is in position to win the national election with more than half the votes counted on Saturday, media projected, though it is unclear whether it can govern with an outright majority.

The results stand in stark contrast to pre-election polls, which had predicted centre-left Labor would win.

The Scott Morrison-led coalition has won or is ahead in 72 seats in its quest for a 76-seat majority, according to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

Several seats are still either too close to call or the vote count has not progressed enough to declare a winner.

“At the moment, it’s looking very strongly like the Morrison government will be returned,” said Australian Broadcasting Association chief election analyst Antony Green.

“We’re just not sure in what position it will be returned,” he said, saying that it may be a minority government but that the coalition would have more seats than the Labor opposition.

Betting markets, which had tagged Labor as a certain winner before election day, have swung violently to back the coalition to form a government.

“I thought I was coming to a wake, to be quite honest with you,” Liberal supporter Greg Napper told Reuters at Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel, where the government holds its official election night function. “This is a party – the results are encouraging.”

Australia’s Labor Party supporters watch the tally count at the Federal Labor Reception at Hyatt Place Melbourne, Essendon Fields, in Melbourne, Australia, May 18, 2019. AAP Image/David Crosling/via REUTERS

Morrison’s coalition defied expectations by holding onto a string of outer suburban seats in areas where demographics closest resemble America’s Rust Belt, blocking Labor’s strongest path to victory.

ELECTION NIGHT CASUALTIES

The mood was sombre in Melbourne, the hometown of Labor leader Bill Shorten, on Saturday night as the anticipated victory dissipated.

“I think people have become afraid after a very negative campaign,” Labor supporter Julie Nelson told Reuters at the party’s Melbourne election night function. “They managed to convince people they should be afraid of change.”

Labor’s 2019 campaign has focussed on higher spending for health and education, and more ambitious curbs to greenhouse gas pollution than the coalition.

Both major parties suffered a fall in their primary vote, according to AEC data, which was caused in part by a high-profile campaign by Clive Palmer’s populist United Australia Party.

The election campaign sparked several high-profile local battles, including attempts to remove Peter Dutton, a senior lawmaker who has championed Australia’s controversial policy of detaining asylum seekers in offshore centres.

Although Dutton has retained his Queensland seat, former conservative prime minister Tony Abbott conceded that he had lost his Sydney beaches seat of Warringah to high-profile independent Zali Steggall.

Slideshow (13 Images)

“So, of course, it’s disappointing for us here in Warringah, but what matters is what’s best for the country,” Abbott told supporters in a concession speech. “And what’s best for the country is not so much who wins or loses Warringah, but who forms, or does not form, a government in Canberra.”

There are also 40 of 76 Senate spots contested in the election, the outcome of which will determine how difficult it will be for the next government to enact policy.

Reporting by Melanie Burton, Tom Westbrook and John Mair; additional reporting by Swati Pandey; writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Paul Tait and Gerry Doyle

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