Australia faces the prospect of a hung parliament, the second in six years, after neither of the country’s major parties won enough seats to form a government in Saturday’s general election.
With 77 percent of the votes counted on Sunday morning, the ruling Conservative coalition led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was neck-and-neck with the centre-left Labor Party, led by opposition leader Bill Shorten.
Each was projected to had secured about 67 seats, nine short of the majority needed in the 150-seat lower house.
Eleven seats were still too close to call. The Greens had won one, while four seats were taken by independent candidates.
A final outcome is not expected for days, as millions of postal and absentee votes have not yet been processed, with experts saying that these traditionally favour the incumbent.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas, reporting from Sydney, said that given how close the election had been, it might be a while before a clear winner was declared.
“It will take some time because postal votes need to be physically gathered in one place, in each electorate,” he said.
“The electorate commission says it will not do any of the counting on Sunday, nor on Monday – only on Tuesday they will start the whole process, and if some of those seats are very close, disputed, then it could take days before those seats are resolved.”
A hung parliament remained a possibility, Attorney General George Brandis said.
Projections showed the most Turnbull could hope for was 74 seats, which would force him to cut a deal with independents and minor parties to stay in power.
Despite losing a host of coalition MPs, Turnbull, whose coalition won 90 seats in the 2013 election, sounded a confident tone during a speech to supporters early on Sunday morning.
“Based on the advice I have from the party officials, we can have every confidence that we will form a coalition majority government,” the 61-year-old said, conceding, however, that the race was “very, very close”.
Labor’s Shorten told supporters that Turnbull’s government had lost a clear mandate to govern.
“One thing is for sure, the Labor party is back,” he said, but did not claim to have enough votes to form a government.
Australia’s politics has seen years of turmoil characterised by internal political feuds, with the prime minister changing five times since 2010.
Turnbull came to power last year after ousting Tony Abbott in a Liberal Party coup.
Shorten took the helm at Labor after playing 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.
Rudd was soundly defeated by Abbott in 2013, after which Shorten took over the party.
“Political instability is becoming the norm in Australia,” Al Jazeera’s Thomas said.
“This country has now has had four prime ministers in just over three years, and if Bill Shorten becomes prime minister as a result of this election he will be its fifth.
“No prime minister in Australia has held office from one election to the next just three years later in the last decade.”