Australia's Labor clings to power

Two independent MPs back prime minister to form minority government, giving ruling party a one-seat majority.

     
      
     Oakeshott and Windsor's declaration of support for Labor ends weeks of suspense in Australian politics [EPA]

    Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, is set to form a minority government after winning the support of two independent politicians.

    The politicians, Tony Windsor and Robb Oakeshott, dubbed the "kingmakers", declared their support for Gillard on Tuesday, giving her Australian Labor Party a one-seat majority and, thus, control of 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives.

    The August 21 general elections had failed to deliver a clear winner.

    The conservative opposition controls 74 seats in parliament.

    "I will ... give confidence and supply to government, and in effect that means confidence and supply in Julia Gillard unless, and I emphasise unless, exceptional circumstances determine otherwise," Oakeshott said.

    Earlier on Tuesday, Bob Katter, the third "kingmaker", announced his decision to back Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition conservative coalition.

    Furious horse-trading

    Katter's announcement, in advance of the decisions by Windsor and Oakeshott, left Abbott dead level with Gillard on 74 seats each.

    "I will be backing [Abbott's] coalition," Katter said in Canberra. "This morning I said that's my decision, fellas. I'm really sorry, I'm locked in."

    Tuesday's announcements marked the climax of two weeks of furious political horse-trading.

    The three "kingmakers" held final meetings on Monday with Gillard and Abbott to decide who forms Australia's next government.

    Gillard has already enlisted the support of another independent, Andrew Wilkie, and the sole lower chamber legislator from the Greens party.

    In late June Gillard, who was then deputy prime minister, stunned Australians, including many within the government, when she launched a sudden challenge to Kevin Rudd's leadership.

    Curious rationale

    Piers Akerman, a senior columnist at the Australian newspaper Daily Telegraph, said Gillard will find passing legislation quite difficult as the independents' electorates were not only unstable, but also conservative.

    "The rationale behind the independents' supporting Labor was also very curious," he told Al Jazeera.

    "They said they went with Labor because they believed that the coalition would be more likely to win government if there was another election. They were indicating that they were going with Labor for their own self-preservation."

    However, an opinion poll published last week showed that "56% of the nation would rather go to the polls soon rather than have this Labor-green-independent coalition government", Akerman said.

    And the issues that "pursued Gillard in the lead-up to the last election will maintain. These include government's ballooning debt, its extremely wasteful policies, plus the issue of border security".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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