Australian ruling party inches closer to re-election win


CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia government appeared increasing likely to retain power after a knife-edge election, with a third independent lawmaker on Friday offering support to the ruling coalition if it falls short of a majority.

But the opposition warned that while the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition was likely to cling to power, the government would not survive a year.

Although vote counting was continuing after the weekend election in a handful of seats and official results could still be days away, Christopher Pyne, the government leader in the House of Representatives, claimed victory Friday, saying his coalition was certain of 74 seats in the House and was likely to win another three.

The government needs at least 76 seats to form a majority in the 150-seat chamber.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was not yet ready to claim victory.

“Christopher is a very confident colleague of mine and he’s entitled to express his naturally optimistic and confident view, but I’m the prime minister and we respect the votes that have been cast and one way we show that respect is by waiting for the counting to be completed,” Turnbull told reporters.

The opposition center-left Labor Party held an upbeat meeting of lawmakers at Parliament House, with opposition leader Bill Shorten acknowledging the Liberals had likely won a second three-year term, but saying its narrow margin of victory meant it faced many problems trying to govern.

“It’s likely in coming days that the Liberals will scrape over the line,” Shorten told his colleagues.

“But the combination of a prime minister with no authority, a government with no direction and a Liberal Party at war with itself will see Australians back at the polls within the year,” he said.

Independent lawmakers Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan on Friday said they would support a coalition government in the interests of stability.

Another independent, Bob Katter, said Thursday that he would also back Turnbull’s coalition — meaning the government has the support of three of the five independent and minor party lawmakers in the chamber.

The Australian Electoral Commission put the coalition ahead in 74 seats, Labor in 71, and the minor parties and independents in five. Mail-in and absentee votes that are still being counted days after Saturday’s vote are favoring the conservatives.

ABC election analysts — considered among the most reliable — were forecasting that the coalition had 73 seats, Labor 66, with minor parties and independents leading in five seats. Another six seats are still in doubt.

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