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Australia’s Labor to retake power after 9 years, independents may hold sway

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SYDNEY — Australia’s Labor Party will form the country’s next government on Monday, as unprecedented support for the Greens and climate-focussed independents ended nearly a decade of rule by the conservative coalition.

Center-left Labor remains four to five seats short of a majority of 76 in the 151 seat lower house with about a dozen electorates too close to call, television channels reported on Sunday. Labor may need the support of independents and smaller parties to return to power for the first time since 2013.

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Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he will be sworn in as the 31st prime minister on Monday along with four senior party members, before heading to Tokyo to attend a “Quad” summit on Tuesday with U.S. President Joe Biden and the prime ministers of Japan and India.

“I do want to change the country. I want to change the way that politics operates in this country,” Albanese told reporters after leaving a cafe in his Sydney suburb, where he was seen taking pictures with supporters.

Several world leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and neighboring New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, congratulated Albanese on his win.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party was toppled in several urban strongholds by independents, mostly women, who campaigned for more action on climate change, integrity and gender equality. The independents and a strong showing from the Greens also ate into Labor’s vote share in many seats.

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“I feel like now maybe is the time for us to do something different, and if we can get action on climate change, then that’s going to be quite exciting,” voter Mark Richardson in Sydney’s Wentworth electorate told Reuters. Wentworth is among the traditional Liberal seats snatched by an independent this election.

Morrison, who will step down as leader of the Liberal party, was shown in TV footage at his church on Sunday morning.

You’ve given us a great foundation from which we could walk … (in) what has been a very difficult walk … over the last almost four years,” a visibly emotional Morrison told fellow worshippers.

RECORD POSTAL VOTES

Official results could take several days, with the counting of a record 2.7 million postal votes to begin Sunday afternoon, two days earlier than prior elections.

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If a hung parliament emerges, independents will hold considerable weight in framing the government’s policies on climate change and the efforts to set up a national anti-corruption commission.

Deputy leader of Labor Richard Marles said the party could still get enough seats to govern on its own.

“I think there is a bit of counting to go, and we are hopeful that we can achieve a majority in our own right,” Marles told ABC television.

Barnaby Joyce, the leader of the Liberals’ junior partner, the National Party, said Australia needed a “strong government,” which must be supported and also held to account.

“So you have to go from a good government to a good opposition,” Joyce told Sky News on Sunday. (Reporting by Renju Jose and Jill Gralow in Sydney; Editing by Lincoln Feast and William Mallard)

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