Voting ends in Australia, PM takes early lead

Voting ends in Australia, PM takes early lead

mandate: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard casts her vote in Melbourne. REUTERS

With 43 percent of the vote counted, Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Labor Party has 50.3 percent against 49.7 percent received by the opposition coalition led by Liberal Party leader Tony Abott.

The Australian Electoral Commission announced 51 seats for Labor, 45 for the opposition coalition and three for independent candidates. It had 51 seats still in doubt.
In New South Wales, there was a swing of 4.77 percent away from Labor with 35 percent of the vote counted. In Queensland, with 41 percent of the state's vote counted, there's a 5.45 percent swing against Labor.

In Victoria, with 33 percent of the vote counted, Labor experienced only a marginal swing of 0.67 percent against it. In South Australia, the conservatives have a slight swing of 0.1 percent with 18 percent of the vote counted, according to Australian news agency AAP. A Sky News exit poll, conducted in 30 key marginal seats Saturday, showed the vote went 51 percent to Labor and 49 percent to the conservatives.

A Nine Network exit poll has also forecast a close win for the incumbent prime minister, with her Labor Party picking up 52 percent of the overall vote to 48 percent for the opposition.

But the poll also reported sharp swings against Labor in crucial marginal seats in Queensland and New South Wales. Former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke said while he was comforted by exit polling, all three possibilities - a Labor victory, a coalition victory or a hung parliament - are still possible.

Former Democrat senator Natasha Stott Despoja expects a Labor victory. "I think that Labor will sneak across the line and I think that's because of the deal they've done with the Greens," she said. "Those preferences, I think, will be crucial to hanging on to a number of seats."

The conservatives need 17 Labor seats to win the election by garnering a uniform swing of 2.3 percent across the country. But the government can lose its absolute majority if it loses 13 seats. Fourteen million voters are enrolled to have a final say on who becomes prime minister. But the final outcome will be delayed by two weeks as around 2.35 million voters cast votes by post, The Australian Electoral Commission said.

According to the Australian electoral law, postal votes cannot be finalised until 13 days after polling day. The counting of votes cast outside the voter's electorate, and postal votes, will not begin until Sunday.

Senior Liberal senator Nick Minchin said he would not be surprised if there is no result Saturday night.After spending Saturday morning in the crucial western Sydney seat of Lindsay, Gillard returned to her home town of Melbourne, beaming for the cameras and declaring "there it is" as she cast her vote for her health minister Nicola Roxon.

Due to a boundary redistribution, Gillard's home suburb of Altona is no longer in her electorate of Lalor. "I'm exercising my own vote," Gillard told reporters. She said it was a "tough, tight, close contest", but she was "very, very happy to be back in Melbourne".

Abbott voted in his Sydney seat of Warringah, queuing up with his wife Margie and their three daughters - Louise, Frances and Bridget. "This is a big day for our country. It's a day when we can vote out a bad government," Abbott said.

A Nielsen poll shows Labor with a slight lead, while a Newspoll has the major parties deadlocked. Former prime minister John Howard said he thought Abbott fought a wonderful campaign.

"He brought the opposition back from the dead only a few months ago and I don't think a bad government deserves a second chance," Howard said Saturday.
However, Labor remained the bookmakers' favourite to win.

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