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Australia votes for new government as PM Morrison admits defeat

Polling had pointed to a tight race, but with a Tokyo summit looming Scott Morrision conceded the vote to the opposition Labour party.
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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister has conceded defeat after an election that could deliver a minority government.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison acted quickly after Saturday’s election despite millions of votes yet to be counted because an Australian prime minister must attend a Tokyo summit on Tuesday with U.S., Japanese and Indian leaders.

“I believe it’s very important that this country has certainty. I think it’s very important this country can move forward,” Morrison told a rally of his supporters.

“And particularly over the course of this week with the important meetings that are being held, I think it’s vitally important there’s a very clear understanding about the government of this country,” he said.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese will be sworn in as prime minister after his Labor party clinched its first electoral win since 2007.

Due to the pandemic, more than 48 percent of Australia’s 17 million electors have voted early or applied for postal votes, which will likely slow the count.

Voting is compulsory for adult citizens and 92 percent of registered voters cast ballots at the last election. Early polling for reasons of travel or work began two weeks ago and the Australian Electoral Commission will continue collecting postal votes for another two weeks.

The government changed regulations on Friday to enable people recently infected with Covid to vote over the phone.

Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said more than 7,000 polling stations opened as planned and on time across Australia despite 15 percent of polling staff falling sick this week with Covid and flu.

Analysts said that Morrison left the election until the latest date available to him to give himself more time to reduce Labor’s lead in opinion polls.

The closely watched Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper on Saturday put Labor ahead with 53 percent of voter support.

The poll surveyed 2,188 voters across Australia from May 13 to 19 and had a 2.9 percent margin of error. At the last election in 2019, the split of votes between the government and Labor was 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent — the exact opposite of the result that Australia’s five most prominent polls including Newspoll had predicted.

As well as campaigning against Labor, Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party had to fight off a new challenge from so-called teal independent candidates to key government lawmakers’ reelection in party strongholds.

The teal independents are marketed as a greener shade than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue color and want stronger government action on reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions than either the government or Labor are proposing.

The government had aimed to reduce Australia’s emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has promised a 43 percent reduction.