Australia PM Gillard says election 'too close to call'

Tony Abbott in Sydney, 21 Aug Tony Abbott said the coalition was "back in business"

Australia's PM Julia Gillard has said the result of the general election is "too close to call".

She told supporters in Melbourne it could be days before the result was known and that independents could play a part in the next administration.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott said it was clear Ms Gillard's Labor had lost its majority and its legitimacy.

The BBC's Nick Bryant, in Sydney, says this could be the first hung parliament since World War II.

Projections by Australian broadcaster ABC indicate that neither of the two main rivals will win the 76 seats needed for outright victory.

The election comes two months after Ms Gillard ousted Kevin Rudd in a controversial leadership challenge.

Marginal seats

ABC is predicting 73 seats for Tony Abbott's coalition, 72 for Ms Gillard's Labor, one for the Greens and four for independent MPs.

JULIA GILLARD

  • Welsh-born former lawyer
  • Taken to Australia as a child in 1966 for the warmer climate
  • Known for her pragmatism and sharp tongue
  • Lives with her partner, a hairdresser
  • Faced criticism from conservatives for not having children

Ms Gillard quoted the words of former US President Bill Clinton when saying "the people have spoken but it's going to take some time to determine exactly what they have said".

"Obviously this is too close to call, there are many seats where the result is undecided and where it will take a number of days to determine the result.

"What we know is there will be a number of independents in the House of Representatives playing a role as the next government of Australia is formed.

"There are anxious days ahead, but I will keep fighting".

Mr Abbott told supporters in Sydney: "This is a night for pride in our achievements, satisfaction at the good results that have been achieved but also a measure of reflection on the magnitude of the task ahead."

TONY ABBOTT

  • Nick-named the "mad monk", relating to his brief training as a Catholic priest
  • Former Rhodes scholar and journalist
  • Socially conservative on issues such as same-sex marriages and abortion
  • Climate change sceptic
  • Renowned fitness fanatic and former student boxer

He said the coalition was "back in business" and would try to form a government. Labor would "never be able to govern effectively in a minority", he said.

Mr Abbott said there should be "no premature triumphalism but an appreciation that this has been a great night for the Australian people".

"I feel humbled as I think of the responsibilities that could lie ahead," he said.

Initial counting had given Labor a marginal lead over Mr Abbott's coalition - but other results suggested heavy swings against Labor, in particular in the key states of Queensland and New South Wales.

Voting is compulsory in Australia, with 14 million registered voters.

Snap election

Mr Abbott worked through the final night of the campaign.

Correspondents say he has tried to exploit the Labor party's divisions after the departure of Mr Rudd, trying to portray his coalition as a stable answer to a government beset by in-fighting.

AUSTRALIA VOTES

  • Voting is compulsory and 14 million Australians are eligible
  • All 150 lower house seats and half of the Senate's 76 seats are up for grabs
  • Most polls open at 0800 and close at 1800 (0800GMT)

In his campaign he has pledged to tighten immigration and has hit out at government spending. He has also toned down his well-known climate change scepticism.

Ms Gillard, a former lawyer who called a snap election shortly after coming to office, is hoping to be rewarded for the government's handling of the economy, which weathered the global recession remarkably well.

That Labor is locked into such a tight election race represents a turnaround in its fortunes since the start of the year.

Missteps by Kevin Rudd on climate change and a controversial mining tax caused his support - previously high - to fall sharply.

Ms Gillard won a leadership race in June but, despite her success, her support has fallen in the two months she has been in office.

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