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Australia election conundrum: Who won?

Australia’s election is set to result in the first hung parliament for 70 years after all the counting in several closely fought seats concludes later this week. The two major parties are in talks with smaller parties.

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Both Ms. Gillard and the Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, held preliminary talks Sunday with the three elected independents, the possible fourth, and the Greens MP. Speaking publicly, Gillard noted that Labor had won more votes overall than the Coalition, which she said was “a critical factor to weigh in the coming days.”

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However, Abbott said that the “savage swing” against Labor – which dumped its own leader, Kevin Rudd, two months ago in favor of Ms Gillard – made clear that voters wanted a change of government. “It’s certain that any Labor government … will be chronically divided and dysfunctional,” he said.

Who are the power brokers?

The disparate Green/independent group that will determine who governs Australia includes Andrew Wilkie, a former intelligence analyst who resigned his job before the Iraq war in 2003. Mr. Wilkie then publicly aired concerns that intelligence relating to weapons of mass destruction was being misrepresented by the Australian government in order to bolster its case for contributing troops.

Mr. Katter, who represents a North Queensland electorate, is a stetson-wearing maverick who is opposed to cheap banana imports and wants to protect the right of rural-dwellers “to go fishing and camping and hunting and shooting.”

A new vote?

Mr. Wanna expects a new government to emerge by the end of this week, but other analysts are more pessimistic. Even if a deal is struck, a minority government might not survive the full three-year term. Peter Costello, a former senior conservative politician, warned Sunday: “It’s quite possible, with an unstable situation like this, that we could be back to the polls within a year.”

If the current negotiations fail altogether, Australia would be constitutionally obliged to hold another election soon – although this scenario is considered unlikely.
David Burchell, an expert in Australian politics based at the University of Western Sydney, said that a hung parliament was the “nightmare scenario we all feared”, and a minority government was unlikely to last longer than 18 months.

“Neither [party] will be able to pass … a significant body of legislation other than budget bills,” he told Agence France-Presse. “They would have to be negotiating with the independents and minorities – or most of them – probably every single time, and Los Angeles-style gridlock, I guess, is what would result.”