Accessibility links

Independent Lawmakers Could Determine Australian Leadership

  • Sarah Williams

Legislative Election Results Remain In Limbo

Negotiations are underway in Australia to determine the country's political future.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott are vying to win the support of one Green and several independent lawmakers to form a minority government. Last weekend, the Australian election failed to establish a conclusive winner. Thousands of mail ballots remain to be counted, and the final result might not be known for a week.

Why was the election so close? The recent ouster of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd by the Labor Party was one major reason, according to Lloyd Cox, professor of politics at Macquarie University in Sydney.

"The party moved against him, and in the end, there wasn't actually a vote, Kevin Rudd stood aside because it was quite clear that he wasn't going to be able to hold onto power," Cox said.

Rudd's popularity had declined before he stepped down in June, especially after he announced his government would delay a proposed cap and trade energy plan until 2013.

Gillard, the deputy prime minister, then succeeded Rudd, but the manner by which she came to power troubled a number of voters.

"There were many people within the party who were alienated, but also from Kevin Rudd's home state of Queensland who felt that the circumstances under which he lost power were completely illegitimate," Cox said.

The controversy surrounding Rudd's ouster carried into the campaign, with Gillard forced to defend the Labor party's record. The divisions within the party were then exploited by Abbott, who heads the conservative Liberal-National coalition.

"Tony Abbott, who many commentators wrote off when he became leader of the coalition about nine months ago, fought a really disciplined and tough campaign, extremely negative, but nonetheless, very effective," said Cox.

The independent lawmakers who could determine Australia's political future are from rural areas that tend to side with the conservative coalition. Once vote counting is finished, the final decision about the election is expected to be made by the independents.

Australia has not had a hung parliament since 1940.