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Early returns showed a lead for the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, on Saturday night, but it was unclear whether the swing away from the governing conservative coalition after nearly a decade in power would be enough to give Labor an outright majority.
Minor party and independent candidates were pulling ahead in at least a half dozen districts, fueled mostly by candidates who campaigned for a more aggressive approach to climate change.
The support for independents and the Australian Greens party appeared to make it unlikely that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s center-right coalition would be able to form a government.
If the Greens win enough seats, they would probably form a government quickly with Labor. But if the two parties cannot reach 76 seats together, Labor would need to win over at least one of the independents, who have not declared what they would request for their support.
The independents ran on calls for tougher cuts to carbon emissions than either Labor or the conservative Liberal-National coalition, as well as on accountability, pushing for a federal anticorruption commission.
Until a government is formed, the success of independents or minor party candidates forces the two major parties to negotiate with outsiders to form a majority government, bringing to the forefront issues they had long put on the back burner — especially climate change.
The preliminary results seemed to show sharp divisions in the nation of 25 million people and frustration with politics as usual in a country where both major parties have been losing support for several election cycles.
In the 2019 election, one out of every four voters cast their vote for a candidate who did not represent Labor or the conservative governing coalition. This year, that share appears to have grown significantly.