|Those who do not vote in Australia face fines, wherever they are [AFP]|
Australia will hold national elections on November 24, with John Howard, the current conservative prime minister, hoping for a fifth term in office and Labour's Kevin Rudd hoping his party can win back power after 11 years in opposition.
Australia has a bi-cameral parliament, based on Britain's Westminster system, and the government is formed by the party with a majority in the lower house of representatives.
All 150 seats in the house will be up for election and the centre-left Labour party needs to win 16 more seats to form an outright majority and take over power.
Going into the election, Howard's Liberal party holds 74 seats, and governs in a coalition with the smaller rural-based National party, which has 12 seats, and the Liberal-Country party's one member.
Voting is compulsory for about 13 million Australians, who must register when they turn 18. Those who do not vote face fines.
Australia is divided into 150 electorates. Each seat has about 90,000 voters and politicians are elected for a three-year term, although the government can call elections earlier.
Electorates are based on population, leading to vast differences in size.
The inner Sydney seat of Wentworth covers 26sq km, while the Western Australian seat of Kalgoorlie covers 2.2 million sq km, an area the size of France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Poland and Britain combined.
Australia has a preferential voting system for elections to the lower house, with voters marking their ballot papers "1,2,3..." in order of preference.
If no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his/her votes are recounted and distributed to the person nominated second in preference.
This continues until one candidate wins with 50 per cent plus one votes.
The voting system means deals between rival parties and independent candidates over preferences can be crucial to the outcome in many seats.
The upper house senate contains 76 senators - 12 from each of the six states and two from each of Australia's two territories - elected under a proportional system.
State-based senators are elected for fixed six-year terms, while territory-based senators are elected for three years.
Half of the senate is re-elected at each election. At the November 24 election, 40 senate seats will be contested, representing six in each state and the four territory senate seats.
To win a senate seat, a candidate needs to gain about 17 per cent of the vote in their state. The system helps minor parties and independent candidates.
Senators elected on November 24 will take up their seats from July 1, 2008.