Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looks almost certain to retain power after a bruising national election, as key independent lawmakers pledged support and marathon vote counting in close-run electorates leaned in his favor yesterday.
Pollsters said a long-delayed victory, albeit a very tight one, was virtually in the bag, but Turnbull was more circumspect, declining to declare the win until final seats were counted.
Turnbull’s gamble in calling an election, ostensibly to clear the Senate of what he saw as obstructive minor parties, backfired badly with a swing to the center-left Labor opposition and a rise in the popularity of minor parties and independents.
The minority government that Turnbull is now expected to lead will no longer have a clear mandate for his center-right Liberal-National coalition’s jobs and growth agenda, including a return to budget surplus and a A$50 billion (US$37.4 billion) corporate tax break.
“Australians have voted, we respect their decision, there are many lessons in that election for all of us,” Turnbull told reporters in Melbourne, reprimanding Australian Minister for Industry Christopher Pyne, who appeared to celebrate prematurely when he described the coalition as an “election-winning machine.”
“We’re taking those lessons to heart very seriously 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, or completed to the point where the decision is claimed,” Turnbull said.
Counting of votes from Saturday’s election last week dragged on into a sixth day, with a rubber stamping of Turnbull’s government expected to be still a few days away, but the likelihood of a minority government and an obstructive Senate has already set off alarm bells.
Standard & Poor’s cut Australia’s credit rating outlook from stable to negative on Thursday, threatening a downgrade of its coveted “AAA” status, over fears.
“We really want to see them start achieving some of their forecasts,” S&P associate director of sovereign and international public finance Anthony Walker told a briefing, adding that the cost of refinancing Australia’s debt is up to three times more than it earns in foreign currency.
Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison’s latest forecast was for net debt to peak at 19.2 percent of GDP by the middle of 2018. Yet as recently as the 2012-2013 budget the peak had been projected to be less than 10 percent.
“There’s been a number of years of fiscal slippage and its time for the government to really step up and deliver on what it’s telling us,” Walker said.
There was some potential reassurance on that front as a third independent begrudgingly lined up behind the coalition after a personal plea from Turnbull who flew around the country in recent days.
“My focus now turns to doing what I can to help settle the situation down and foster stable government,” Australian independent Member of Parliament Andrew Wilkie said, adding he would retain his right to vote independently in parliament.
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