CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s prime minister conceded defeat after Saturday’s election that could result in a minority government.
Despite millions of votes yet to be counted, Scott Morrison moved quickly as the Australian prime minister must attend a summit in Tokyo with leaders of the US, Japan and India on Tuesday.
“I believe it’s very important for this country to have certainty. I think it’s very important for this country to be able to move forward,” Morrison said.
“Especially during the important meeting this week, I think it’s very important to have a very clear picture of the government in this country,” he added.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese will be sworn in as prime minister after his Labour Party’s first election victory since 2007.
Labor has pledged more financial aid and a strong social safety net as Australia grapples with its highest inflation since 2001 and soaring house prices.
The party also plans to raise the minimum wage and, on the foreign policy front, it has proposed the establishment of a Pacific Defence School to train neighbouring armies in response to a potential Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands on Australia’s doorstep.
It also wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent by 2050 to combat climate change.
Morrison’s Liberal-led coalition is seeking a fourth three-year term. It has the smallest majority — 76 seats in the 151-member House of Representatives — and parties need a majority to form a government.
In Saturday’s early count, the Coalition was on track to win 38 seats, Labour 71, seven non-aligned lawmakers and 23 too close.
Small parties and independents appear to be taking votes from the major parties, raising the prospect of a hung parliament and a minority government.
Australia’s most recent hung parliament was in 2010-13 and during World War II.
The record percentage of mail-in ballots due to the pandemic will not be added to the count until Sunday, adding to the uncertainty of early counts.
In addition to opposing Labour, Morrison’s conservative Liberals have fought off new challenges ranging from so-called blue-green independent candidates to key government lawmakers’ re-election in the party’s stronghold.
At least four Liberal MPs appear to have lost seats to blue-green independents, including Deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg, who is seen as Morrison’s most likely successor.
“What we’ve achieved here is extraordinary,” Teal candidate and former foreign correspondent Zoe Daniels said in her victory speech. “Safe Liberal seat. Two-term incumbent. Independent,” she added.
The turquoise independents, promoted as greener than the Liberal party’s traditional blue, want the government to take stronger action on reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions than the government or Labor has proposed.
The government’s Senate leader Simon Birmingham is concerned about the sharp swings in several blue-green candidates.
“The obvious problem is that we are losing the seats in the heartland that have defined the Liberal Party for generations,” Birmingham said.
Birmingham added: “If we lose these seats – we’re not sure we’ll lose them – but there’s clearly a big campaign against us and there’s clearly a big message in it.”
About half of Australia’s 17 million voters are voting early or applying to vote by mail because of the pandemic, which could slow down the count.
Adult citizens are required to vote, and 92 percent of registered voters voted in the last election.
Early voting for travel or work reasons started two weeks ago and the Australian Electoral Commission will continue to collect postal ballots for the next two weeks.
The government changed regulations on Friday to enable people who have recently contracted COVID-19 to vote by phone.
Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said more than 7,000 polling stations in Australia were open on time as planned, despite 15 per cent of polling workers contracting COVID-19 and the flu this week.
Albanese said he expected Morrison to hold an election over the weekend as the Australian prime minister was expected to hold a Tokyo summit on Tuesday with U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi .
“If we get a clear result today, whoever is the prime minister will be flying to Tokyo on Monday, I must say, after the election, that’s not ideal,” Albanese said.
Analysts say Mr Morrison is saving the election to the latest date he can get to, to give himself more time to reduce Labor’s lead in the polls.