Canberra – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who led a trailing conservative coalition, secured his return to power in a surprise election win on Saturday.
Morrison’s coalition came out on top despite all public opinion surveys and even the exit polls predicting victory for the opposition Labor party in the national parliamentary elections.
"I have always believed in miracles. I’m standing with the three biggest miracles of my life here tonight and tonight we have been delivered another one," said the 51-year-old evangelical Christian, flanked by his wife and two young daughters, shortly after Labor leader Bill Shorten conceded defeat.
"How good is Australia? And how good are Australians?" Morrison said after being given a hero’s welcome by hundreds of Liberal Party supporters at their campaign headquarters in Sydney. He dedicated the victory to the "quiet Australians," saying "it’s always been about them."
Morrison’s coalition is projected to win 74 seats, two short of a majority in the 151-seat House of Representatives, while Labor is likely to win 66 seats, with 72 per cent of ballots counted, an Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) told dpa by phone.
Several seats in Australia’s lower house of parliament are still in doubt, while six are likely to be taken by independent candidates or smaller parties, including the Greens.
Morrison may have to seek help from them to form a minority government.
The AEC said it would resume counting on Sunday.
Earlier Saturday, Shorten conceded defeat in the election and resigned as leader of the Labor party.
"It is obvious that Labor will not be able to form the next government," Shorten told his supporters in Melbourne.
"I wish we could have won for the true believers, for our brothers and sisters in the mighty trade union movement," said the 52-year-old, who is himself a former trade unionist.
Despite the conservative coalition’s electoral win, the government was dealt a blow when former prime minister Tony Abbott lost his northern Sydney seat after holding it for 25 years. The Liberal politician was unseated by a former Olympian, Zali Steggall, who campaigned as an independent on climate change issues.
More than 16 million voters were enrolled to vote in Australia, where voters must cast a ballot or face a 20-dollar (14-US-dollar) fine.
Morrison campaigned on a platform of stability and better economic management, while his opponent Shorten promised to act on climate change and tax reforms.
Former Liberal prime minister John Howard said class warfare and "climate ideology" had cost Labor this year’s federal election.
"Australians believe in egalitarianism. They reject the politics of class division," he told Australian broadcaster ABC.
The 36-day election campaign was filled with drama, including an attempted egging of the prime minister and the disendorsement or resignation of at least nine candidates due to various scandals.
Morrison took on the role of prime minister nine months ago after a back-room revolt against his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull.
Australia has not seen a prime minister complete an entire three-year term since 2007 due to a series of internal leadership coups in the country’s two major parties.
But both parties have now changed their party regulation to make it harder to oust a sitting prime minister.