Australia’s conservative government increased its narrow lead over the opposition in vote counting on Thursday after weekend elections turned too close to call.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was traveling to Australia’s remote northeast for talks on Thursday with maverick independent lawmaker Bob Katter to discuss what demands Katter might make in return for supporting a minority government if the count ended with only Australia’s third hung parliament in more than a century.
Turnbull’s Liberal Party-led coalition needs at least a 76-seat majority in the House of Representatives where it had controlled 90 seats.
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The Australian Electoral Commission put the coalition ahead in 74 seats, Labor in 71 and the minor parties and independents were leading in five seats. Mail-in and absentee votes that were being counted days after Saturday’s poll are favoring the conservatives.
Australian Broadcasting Corp. election analysts _ considered among the most reliable _ were predicting that the coalition had 72 seats, Labor 66 and the minor parties and independents were leading in five seats. Another seven seats were in doubt.
Liberal Party Deputy Leader Julie Bishop said she remained hopeful of securing a narrow majority.
“It’s looking very encouraging, but there is still quite a number of votes to count,” she told Seven Network television on Thursday.
“I’m hoping that we will be able to form a majority government with 76 seats,” she added.
Bill Shorten, who leads the center-left Labor Party, said on Wednesday that if Turnbull clung to power, he would still have to deal with the most conservative lawmakers in his party who are angry that Turnbull, a moderate, had ousted his predecessor Tony Abbott in an internal leadership ballot less than a year ago.
Turnbull would also have to deal with a more fragmented Senate, which would include One Nation party founder Pauline Hanson, a conservative firebrand denounced by major parties who opposes Muslim and Asian immigration as well as free trade. With no party holding a majority in the Senate, the next government might have to do deals with Hanson and other crossbenchers to get contentious legislation passed.
“If Mr. Turnbull does scrape home, his problems have only just begun,” Shorten told reporters. “In the House of Representatives, he’ll be hostage to Mr. Abbott and the right wing of the Liberal Party and in the Senate, he’ll be hostage to Sen. Hanson … and other right wing senators.”
Bishop praised Turnbull’s leadership despite the unexpectedly large voter swing away from the government.
“I think he did a very competent job. I do have faith in him. I think he’ll be a great prime minister should be get over the line as I hope we will,” Bishop said.
“I’m looking forward to a Parliament where we can work closely with the independents in the House of Representatives and in the Senate whether we form a majority government or minority government,” she added.
If the government falls short of a majority, Governor General Peter Cosgrove will give Turnbull the first chance to form a minority government with the support of one or more crossbench lawmakers.
If Turnbull can’t, then Shorten will be given a chance to form a minority government. If neither side can form a government, then another election will be held.