Following an inconclusive election, Australian prime minister Julia Gillard (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) has made contact with independent candidates in order to try to form a government.
Gillard said she would continue to provide “stable” government as final votes are counted.
She also acknowledged that neither her Labor Party nor the opposition conservative coalition was likely to win the 76 seats needed for an outright majority.
ABC Australia is forecasting 72 seats for Labor and 73 for the conservatives.
78% of votes have been counted. National broadcaster ABC say these results show that Labor is already set to win 72 seats, and Tony Abbott’s Liberal/National coalition is on course for 70.
“It is clear that neither party has earned the right to government in its own right,” Ms Gillard said, adding that Labor had won the most votes overall nationally, if minor parties are discounted.
However opposition leader Tony Abbott said it was clear Labor had lost its parliamentary majority and its legitimacy.
“There was a savage swing against this government,” he said.
Two monthes before the elections, Gillard ousted Kevin Rudd in a controversial leadership challenge.
Australia’s last hung parliament was in 1940.
The balance of power now seems to belong to a handful of members of parliament, including three independents, a Green Party candidate, and an independent whose seat is not yet confirmed.
“It’s my intention to negotiate in good faith an effective agreement to form government,” Gillard told journalists on Sunday.
She added that she would “continue to provide stable and effective government in accordance with our democratic process while the final votes are counted in this election”.
Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, both independents, said they would side with the party most able to provide stable government, according to the Associated Press. A third independent, Bob Katter, said he would back the party that promised the best deal for his constituents.
All three are former members of conservative parties.
Windsor said he had received two “very kind phone calls” from Gillard and then Abbott.
“Obviously we did mention if there was a hung parliament that there may have to be some discussion,” he added.
After the vote, Abbott (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) told supporters in Sydney that it had been “a night for pride in our achievements”.
He said his coalition was “back in business” and would try to form a government, and that Labor would “never be able to govern effectively in a minority”.
Although Labor was given a marginal lead over Abbott’s coalition by initial counting, other results suggested heavy swings against Labor, in particular in the key states of Queensland and New South Wales.
Voting is compulsory in Australia, with 14 million registered voters.
In his campaign, Abbott has pledged to tighten immigration and has hit out at government spending. He has also toned down his well-known climate change scepticism.
Gillard is a former lawyer who called a snap election shortly after coming to office. She is hoping to be rewarded for the government’s handling of the economy, which weathered the global recession remarkably well.
In June Gillard won a leadership race. But, despite her success, her support has fallen in the two months she has been in office.