Canberra, Australia ( Associated Press) – Australia’s prime minister on Saturday conceded defeat after an election that could deliver a minority government.
Scott Morrison acted swiftly despite counting millions of votes as an Australian prime minister must attend a Tokyo summit with US, Japanese and Indian leaders on Tuesday.
“I believe it is very important that there is certainty in this country. I think it is very important that this country can move forward,” Morrison said.
“And especially with the important meetings that are taking place during this week, I think it is very important that there is a very clear understanding of the government of this country,” he said.
Read more: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison calls for elections to be held on May 21
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese will be sworn in as prime minister after the Labor Party won its first electoral victory since 2007.
Labor has promised more financial aid and a stronger social safety net as Australia grapples with the highest inflation and rising housing prices since 2001.
The party also plans to raise the minimum wage, and on the foreign policy front, it has proposed setting up a Pacific Defense School on Australia’s doorstep to train neighboring forces in response to China’s possible military presence on the Solomon Islands. .
It seeks to tackle climate change with a more ambitious 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Morrison’s Liberal Party-led coalition was seeking a fourth three-year term. It has the lowest majority in the 151-member House of Representatives – 76 seats, where parties need a majority to form a government.
In Saturday’s early vote count, the Coalition was on track to win 38 seats, Labor 71, seven outlawed legislators and 23 very close to the call.
Small parties and independents appeared to be taking votes from the major parties, raising the possibility of a hung parliament and a minority government.
Australia’s most recent hung parliament took place during 2010–13 and World War II.
A record proportion of postal votes due to the pandemic, which will not be added to the count until Sunday, adds to the uncertainty in the initial counting.
As well as campaigning against Labor, Morrison’s conservative liberals faced a new challenge from so-called Teal Independent candidates for re-election to key government lawmakers in party strongholds.
At least four Liberal MPs appear to have lost their seats to independent candidates, including deputy leader of the Liberal Party, Josh Frydenberg, who was seen as the most likely successor to Morrison.
“What we’ve achieved here is extraordinary,” said Teal candidate and former foreign correspondent Zoe Daniels in her victory speech. “Secure Liberal seat. Two-time incumbent. Independent,” he added.
Teal independents are marketed as a shade greener than the traditional blue of the Liberal Party and seek stronger government action than either Government or Labor to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The government’s Senate leader, Simon Birmingham, was concerned by the large swings towards several Teal candidates.
“It is a clear problem that we are losing the seats that are the seats of the heart that have defined the Liberal Party for generations,” Birmingham said.
Birmingham said, “If we lose those seats – it’s not certain that we will – but there is clearly a big movement against us and there’s clearly a big message in that.”
Because of the pandemic, nearly half of Australia’s 17 million voters have voted early or applied for postal votes, which will likely slow the count.
Voting is compulsory for adult citizens and 92% of registered voters voted in the last election.
Early voting for travel or work reasons began two weeks ago and the Australian Electoral Commission will continue to collect postal votes for the next two weeks.
The government on Friday changed the rules to enable people recently infected with COVID-19 to vote over the phone.
Election Commissioner Tom Rogers said more than 7,000 polling stations opened as planned and on time across Australia, despite 15% of polling staff falling ill with COVID-19 and the flu this week.
Albanese said he thought Morrison would have called the election last weekend because Australia’s prime minister is expected to be at a Tokyo summit on Tuesday with US 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 on a plane to Tokyo on Monday, which is not ideal, I have to say, immediately after a campaign,” Albanese said.
Analysts have said Morrison left the election until the latest date available to him to give himself more time to cut Labor’s lead in opinion polls.