Exit polls show tight race in Australian parliament vote

Polling stations have closed and counting has begun in the eastern states of Australia for parliamentary elections Saturday, which comes after years of turmoil characterized by internal political feuds for the nation's top job.

Voting will continue on the western coast due to two-hours time difference, a spokesman for the Australian electoral commission said.

Counting has begun, he said, but the results will start coming only later in the day.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is leading a coalition effort of center-right parties on an agenda of jobs and economic growth. Opposition leader Bill Shorten is advocating for cheaper health care and education.

Exit polls are showing coalition and labour neck and neck, with one poll showing a very slight lead for Turnbull's Liberal party.

According to sportsbet.com.au, a betting website, coalition's odds to win government is 1.10 Australian dollars (0.82 US dollars) to 7.00 Australian dollars.

Leo Schwarzmann, 54, stood in line with his wife and two puppies for more than an hour at a polling station in Bondi Beach Public School.

"I am a swing voter, not loyal to any parties. This time it's Malcolm Turnbull. I think he is more capable than other candidates to get the job done. He comes across as a reliable person," Schwarzmann said.

Turnbull came to power last year after ousting Tony Abbott in a Liberal Party coup, while Shorten took the Labor leadership after then prime minister Kevin Rudd lost the 2013 election to Abbott.

There are about 16 million registered voters in Australia. Voting is compulsory, and absconders are fined. In the last 2013 election the voter turnout was 93.2 per cent.

This year, around 3 million people have cast their ballot in early polls, while more than a million have posted their votes, according to Australian Electoral Commission.

Their spokesman said the turnout this year will be known only after a few days.

Any party or coalition will need to win 76 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives in the parliament to form a government. Another 76 seats in the Senate are also up for grabs.

The election campaign went on for 55 days. On Saturday, candidates hit polling stations in various places before and after casting their ballots, while taking selfies and eating sausages with the voters.

"There's never been a more exciting time," Turnbull said before voting alongside his wife in Sidney's Double Bay.

"Win the election," came a reply from the crowd.

"Ok, we're working on it. Thank you. Thanks for your encouragement," he said before leaving the booth.

He left the media entourage and traveled to the western suburbs with his team, updating his social media with selfies with the voters.

Shorten visited several polling stations in Sydney before arriving in his Melbourne home district of Maribyrnong to vote with his wife.

"I make one last election-day promise: we will not let you down. I certainly have the energy, that if elected, tonight, as prime minister I will hit the ground running tomorrow," he said during one of his visits in Sydney.

He caused a bit controversy, after awkwardly biting into his sausage sandwich sideways, which got a major flak in social media.

The election "is not about me," ousted premier Abbott said, urging people to "vote Liberal for a stronger economy."

He is expected to retain his parliamentary seat in Warringah, a Liberal stronghold north of Sydney, but still faces a challenge from former Australian Idol host, independent candidate James Mathison.

In Melbourne, police started an investigation after a Green party volunteer said her thumb was bitten by a Liberal volunteer during an altercation over election material.

Also, police in St Kilda arrested four for allegedly damaging polling booths.

Last update: Sat, 02/07/2016 - 12:30

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