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By-election Could Toss Australian Government Out of Power

Conservative Liberal party MP John Alexander laughs as he stands with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a visit to a printing company in Sydney, Australia, April 4, 2017.

Australia’s conservative coalition government is at risk of losing power after a new poll revealed the opposition Labor Party is neck-and-neck in a knife-edge by-election triggered by a constitutional crisis.

A by-election is being held in the Sydney seat of Bennelong because government member of parliament John Alexander was forced to resign after he declared he held dual British citizenship.

Dual citizenship

Under the Australian constitution, dual citizens cannot hold federal office. Alexander is among eight Australian politicians who have left parliament because of dual citizenship.

The coalition government is hanging on to power by one seat. If it loses the Bennelong by-election, it will be plunged into minority government.

A second by-election is being held in Queensland state, but the government is widely expected to win that one.

Alexander has renounced his British citizenship and is standing in the Dec. 16. by-election for his old seat.

Labor candidate

Labor candidate Kristina Keneally, a former high-profile New South Wales premier, is polling 50-50 with him in two-party preferred polls.

Alexander, a former tennis champion, is leading by 3 percentage points in the primary vote; that is more than 8 percent down on his primary vote when he won the set in a general election in July last year.

The poll, published in the Saturday Telegraph, shows the Labor Party snatching a 10 percent swing, meaning it could win the seat and be in striking distance of being in a position to form a government.

Labor Party leader Bill Shorten has declared the by-election a referendum on the government’s performance, which has been hit by internal fights, poor poll performances and widespread criticism over its handling of policy on asylum seekers.