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Australia's prime minister appears to hold onto power, defying election predictions

Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, campaigns on April 17, 2019, in Devonport, Australia.

RYAN PIERSE/GETTY IMAGES/TNS

By A. ODYSSEUS PATRICK | Special to The Washington Post | Published: May 18, 2019

SYDNEY — The center-right government of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared on track to hold onto power Saturday after a surprise surge in national elections that left some pundits making comparisons to President Doanld Trump's win in 2016.

The apparent upset victory was the latest election to trample predictions by polling firms, which all showed Morrison's political bloc trailing the opposition Labor Party.

Morrison's Liberal-National coalition was two seats short of a parliamentary majority after about 60% of the vote had been counted, according to election officials.

But political analysts said the pattern of voting made it likely the coalition would emerge with more than half the seats in parliament.

"This is a complete shock," said Zareh Ghazarian, a political science lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne. "We have completely expected an opposite thing for two years. Voters rejected the big picture. They have endorsed a government that has run on a very presidential campaign and on its management of the economy."

The expected Labor Party victory was seen as move toward greater attention on battling climate change, expanding social programs and ending political instability that had led to six prime ministers in eight years.

The Labor lead also suggested Australia was ready to set a counternarrative to the rise in nationalist political movements in the West and elsewhere.

Now, Morrison's come-from-behind campaign may provide a further morale boost to conservative politicians in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Western World hostile to immigration and skeptical of renewable energy subsidies.

In the end, Morrison's regular-guy political persona - he was the first Australian prime minister to campaign in baseball caps - and promises to cut taxes proved unexpectedly effective.

Morrison's government has placed restrictions on some Chinese investments and effectively banned Huawei from Australia's 5G telecommunications network.

But Labor leader Bill Shorten has suggested Australia needs to recalibrate its relationship with China, saying Australia must take a more rounded approach in its dealings with Beijing and not only view it "through the prism of strategic risk."

Shorten's promises of a wider social safety net, support for renewable energy and government stability - after six prime ministers in eight years - have resonated strongly across the country.

The Labor Party wants Australia to generate half of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2030, a huge shift for a nation with the world's fourth-largest coal reserves and the eighth-biggest natural-gas industry.

The election comes just days after the death of one of Australia's transformative political figures, former prime minister Bob Hawke.

His wife, Blanche d'Alpuget, announced the death Thursday of the 89-year-old Hawke, but did not give a cause. In Hawke's last public statement, he issued an open letter urging voters to support Shorten.

Hawke, who served as prime minister from 1983 to 1991, was widely regarded as the most successful Labor politician in Australian history and was known for integrating the country into the global economy, forging alliances with Asian nations and strengthening ties with world powers such as the United States
 

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