Australians woke up Sunday to a political limbo after the previous day's parliamentary election failed to deliver a clear winner, with a strong probability for a hung parliament.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who had called an early election after dissolving both houses of parliament, seem to have fared badly, while the Labor party, led by Bill Shorten, has made a comeback.
With less than 80 per cent of the votes counted so far, the two parties are neck-and-neck with 67 seats each in the 150-seat lower house.
The Greens have one, while four seats were taken by independent candidates. At least 11 seats are undecided, and there may be recounts in some of the constituencies that have seen close contests.
"We would have preferred a clearer outcome," Turnbull said on Sunday afternoon. "It will be a number of days before the electoral commission completes the count."
"I remain confident that a majority coalition government will be returned at this election when the counting is completed."
"At the last election (in 2013) there was a very big swing for the conservatives. People were tired of the antics of the Labor party, of their infighting, backstabbing and disunity," Melbourne-based political analyst Andrew Jaspan said.
"So the voters punished Labor and gave a resounding victory to Tony Abbott."
In fact, Shorten played key roles in two leadership coups: the overthrowing of Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard in 2010, and the ousting of Gillard for Rudd again in 2013.
Jaspan said Shorten has now united the party and the voters have forgiven Labor.
"Or at least they are not as angry with Labor as they were before. But this result has brought us to exactly where we were back in 2010," Jaspan said.
The then election was also neck-and-neck between the Labor party, led by Julia Gillard, and the Liberal coalition, led by Tony Abbott. It took days for all the votes to be counted and by the end, both had won 72 seats each, which resulted in the first hung parliament in 70 years.
After frenetic lobbying, Gillard formed a minority government with the support of one Green and three independent parliamentarians.
"I still think the Liberal-led coalition will be able to form a majority government with a very small margin," Jaspan said. "But there is a strong probability for a hung parliament."
It means both the party leaders will jostle to get the independent candidates to join their minority government.
Jaspan said the election results, whether the Liberals win or not, is "disastrous for Turnbull," who had a 19-seat advantage when he went to the election.
"Turnbull has failed to win clearly and he will come under pressure. There will be a lot of anger in the party, among rank and file. The right wing faction inside the party ... will go after him. He won't be able to rein them in."
Jaspan said Turnbull's pitch about stability went unheeded.
"I think the UK decision to leave the EU left great uncertainty in [the] economy, trade, the money market, and stock exchange. During these times of instability, Turnbull said it would be in Australia's interest to have a stable government with a clear mandate," he said.
"He wanted that. His message was: Don't change now because it will cause instability. But the voters did not buy that theory."
"Whatever the result ends up being, there is no clear mandate and an extremely difficult Senate," Michelle Grattan, a political commentator, wrote for The Conversation website.
"Turnbull, if he is still prime minister, would be confronted by the prospect of internal disunity plus a chaotic upper house that could likely make it nearly impossible to do much that is meaningful."
"Whatever happens next week, Mr Turnbull ... will never again be able to promise the stability which he has completely failed to deliver tonight," Shorten said in his speech on Sunday.
Analysts and politicians are also saying that if neither party can cut a deal with the independent candidates, then a political deadlock will ensue, forcing a re-election.
"If they can't form a government, a re-election will be called," Jaspan told dpa.
Cabinet Secretary and key Turnbull confidant Arthur Sinodinos also suggested Saturday night that a re-election could be necessary.
"This is the trouble the country faces: in effect, at some stage, we will have to re-run this because no-one has a mandate for anything," Sinodinos said in a television interview.
During the campaign, both the party leaders had categorically denied that they would cut a deal with the independents or minor parties if there was a hung parliament.