Polling stations opened across Australia local time on Saturday as voters decide whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Conservative government will defy the odds and rule for a fourth three-year term.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s centre-left Labor Party is favorite to win its first election since 2007.
But in the last election, in 2019, Morrison defied opinion polls and led his coalition to a narrow victory.
His coalition holds the narrowest majority, 76 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives where parties need a majority to form government.
The two leaders were due to continue their campaign in Melbourne on Saturday before casting their ballots in their hometown of Sydney.
The first polling stations will close on the east coast of the country at 6 p.m. local time.
Different Voting Styles
Due to the pandemic, more than 48% of Australia’s 17 million voters voted early or requested postal votes, which will likely slow the count.
Voting is compulsory for adult citizens and 92% of registered voters voted in the last election.
Early voting for travel or work reasons began two weeks ago, and the Australian Electoral Commission will continue to collect postal votes for another two weeks.
On Friday, the government changed regulations to allow people recently infected with COVID-19 to vote by phone.
Albanese said he believed Morrison would have called the election last weekend as the Australian prime minister is due for a summit in Tokyo on Tuesday with US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“If we get a clear result today, whoever the prime minister is, he will fly to Tokyo on Monday, which is not ideal, I must say, immediately after a campaign,” Albanese told the Nine Network television.
Analysts say Morrison has left the election until the last date available to him to give him more time to reduce Labour’s lead in the opinion polls.
Labor promises more spending on child and elderly care. The coalition promises better economic management as Australia’s deficit soars due to the pandemic.
Morrison said if re-elected his government would cut taxes and put downward pressure on interest rates and the cost of living.
“It’s about choosing who can best manage our economy and our finances, because a strong economy is what secures your future,” Morrison told Nine Network.
The closely watched Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper on Saturday put Labor in the lead, with 53% of voter support.
The poll surveyed 2,188 voters across Australia from May 13-19. It has a margin of error of 2.9%.
The vote split between Government and Labor in 2019 was 51.5% to 48.5% – the opposite mirror to the outcome predicted by Australia’s five most important polls, including Newspoll.
As well as campaigning against Labour, Morrison’s Conservative Liberal Party is battling a new challenge from so-called teal independent candidates to the re-election of key government lawmakers in party strongholds.
Teal independents are being marketed as a shade greener than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue color and want stronger government action to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions than the government or Labor are offering.
The government aims to cut Australia’s emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has pledged a 43% cut.