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Former Student Priest Vies for Power in Australia

A former seminarian who promises tough action against illegal migrants hopes to oust Australia's left-of-center government in Saturday's election. Opinion polls show that Tony Abbott's Liberal Party is level with the governing Labor Party as voters prepare to cast their ballots.

In the final phase of the campaign, Tony Abbott embarked on a 36-hour non-stop bout of electioneering to convince voters he should become Australia's next prime minister.

Abbott, a keen cyclist and swimmer, is considered the action man of Australian politics.

His beliefs are deeply conservative and he is a staunch Catholic. Married, with three children, Abbott has consistently opposed relaxing laws on abortion, same-sex marriages and stem cell research.

One of the cornerstones of his efforts to win the election has been a hard-line stance on asylum seekers who try to enter the country illegally.

Abbott favors reopening a controversial offshore detention center on Nauru in the South Pacific to hold illegal migrants while their asylum claims are processed. He has repeatedly promised to turn back boats carrying migrants into Australian waters.

As the campaign enters its end, Abbott says it has been an exhausting, yet thrilling experience. "Have I enjoyed the campaign? The short answer is yes. I mean it's been tough, it's been stressful; at times I've thought 'Oh, geez, you know, this is a bit depressing', because you know, we're all human," he explains, "I mean even senior politicians are human, we're subject to the usual range of emotions. But most of all it's been just the most incredible challenge and an incredible honor."

The head of the Liberal Party is often regarded as a maverick. In a recent radio interview he confessed that he did not always speak the whole truth, prompting opponents to label him "Phoney Tony."

His critics also portray Abbott as an economic novice, whose lack of experience could damage Australia's accelerating economy. In turn, the opposition leader has accused his Labor rivals of being wasteful and incompetent.

Abbott, a former journalist, entered parliament in 1994, representing the affluent Sydney Warringah constituency ever since.