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It’s been 48 hours, and nobody has any clue who won Australia’s election

The election was Saturday, but there is total confusion about whether Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be able to hang onto government — or whether his own party will turf him first.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Liberal/National Coalition Leader Malcolm Turnbull and Labour Leader Bill Shorten. (Tracey Nearmy/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Since Australians went to the polls on Saturday to elect representatives to both houses of Parliament, nobody has been able to figure out who will form the next government.

Counting of more than one million absentee and mail-in ballots will continue on Tuesday morning in Australia, which should settle the ten outstanding constituencies which are currently too close to call, but it's not clear that the final results will do much to clear the political turmoil facing the country.


According to the Australian Election Commission, the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is trailing the opposition Labour Party by just four seats.

The official results put Labour at 71, the Liberal/National Coalition at 67, with another six seats going to smaller parties and independents. The commission says six seats are yet to be determined.

But there is even disagreement about whether those results — the official results — are correct.

"That's just not right, it's just not right," Antony Green, an election analyst for ABC 24, said of the commission's projections. He predicted that, in fact, the two parties were likely tied, or that the coalition was leading by a single seat.

Voting in Australia is mandatory and works under the instant runoff system — meaning that voters can rank their candidates in order of preference and their secondary choices will be counted if no candidate reaches a clear majority.

While Turnbull has vowed that his government will hang on with a majority, there appears virtually no chance that will come to fruition, and calls for his resignation have begun.

If he does go, it'll be the fifth time the prime ministership has changed hands in less than a decade — with the average term in office since 2007 being just 1.7 years.

Labour leader Bill Shorten has also faced calls to resign for his poor performance, but has thus far insisted he will stay on.


Related: Ignoring the Facts, Australia's Immigration Minister Calls Refugees 'Illiterate and Innumerate'

Either way, the results will almost certainly mean that the smaller parties and independents will come to play kingmakers in the eventual results.

Currently, the official results predict that a party led by centrist Nick Xenophon, who ran with a reformist ticket, would win two seats, while both the Greens and the right-wing agrarian Katter's Australian Party would pick up a seat apiece. Independent candidates won two seats as well.

If that isn't complicated enough, it appears as though Australia's upper house will be similarly deadlocked.

Counting ballots for the upper house has yet to be completed, thanks in part to a voting system that gives voters the option of ranking candidates or voting for a party, but early results suggest there will be no clear winner. A raft of smaller parties, it seems, will ascend to the upper house — and will have plenty of leeway to hold up, block, or change government legislation.

Derryn Hinch's Justice Party, which focuses on stiffening penalties for pedophiles, won a seat in the province of Victoria. Pauline Hanson's One Nation, a far-right party that calls for a ban on Muslims entering the country and installing surveillance cameras in mosques, won a seat in Queensland. The Jacqui Lambie Network, which has called for strict rules on labelling Halal food and which would have a empower "law enforcement and security agencies to ascertain whether monies paid for [Halal] certification are misused in the support of terrorist activities," won a seat in Tasmania.


The election itself was focused on economic issues like taxation and pension reform, but veered towards more divisive issues when it came to refugee policies.

Turnbull has repeatedly rejected calls from the international community to increase Australia's intake of refugees and to close its network of offshore migrant detention facilities. The conditions in those immigration jails, which house thousands from throughout the Asian continent, have led a number of migrants to self-immolate — two set themselves on fire in May alone, during the campaign.

Related: Australian Politicians Want to Send Refugees to Canada, But They Haven't Told Canada Yet

Labour, on the other hand, vowed to "not allow policy which sees the mass drowning of vulnerable people," according to Shorten. The party's official policy would allow the Australian navy to turn back refugee boats and send them back to their source country. That policy, compared within Labour itself to neo-Nazism, inspired a small revolt against Shorten's leadership.

The whole thing — the deadlock in the lower house, the rise of independents of various stripes, the confusion over the count — left ABC News wondering: "What. Just. Happened?"

The public broadcaster concluded that "currently no-one can really say with certainty what the outcome will be" and that it appeared as though neither major party would have a clear path to government.

One columnist for The Age wryly wondered: "Does Australia even need a government?"

Ultimately, despite the word "ungovernable" cropping up to describe the most recent round of Australian political uncertainty, economic markets remain largely indifferent.

Counting the ballots will resume on Tuesday morning (Monday evening, in the North American time zones) although it could take days or weeks before a government is formed.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling