Australia's prime minister conceded defeat after an election Saturday that could deliver a minority government. Scott Morrison acted quickly despite millions of votes yet to be counted, because an Australian prime minister must attend a Tokyo summit on Tuesday with US, 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 said, per the AP. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese will be sworn in as prime minister after his Labor Party clenched its first electoral win since 2007. Labor has promised more financial assistance and a robust social safety net as Australia grapples with the highest inflation since 2001 and soaring housing prices.
The party also plans to increase minimum wages, and on the foreign policy front, it proposed to establish a Pacific defense school to train neighboring armies in response to China's potential military presence on the Solomon Islands on Australia's doorstep. It also wants to tackle climate change with a more ambitious 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Morrison's Liberal Party-led coalition was seeking a fourth three-year term. It holds the narrowest of majorities—76 seats in the 151-member House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form a government. In early counting on Saturday, the coalition was on track to win 38 seats, Labor 71, seven were unaligned lawmakers, and 23 were too close to call.
Minor parties and independents appeared to be taking votes from the major parties, which increases the likelihood of a hung parliament and a minority government. Due to the pandemic, around half of Australia's 17 million electors have voted early or applied for mail-in ballots, which will likely slow the count. Voting is compulsory for adult citizens, and 92% of registered voters cast ballots at the last election. The government changed regulations on Friday to enable people recently infected with COVID-19 to vote over the phone. Analysts have 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. "If we get a clear outcome today, then whoever is prime minister will be on a plane to Tokyo on Monday, which isn't ideal, I've got to say, immediately after a campaign," Albanese said.
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