(Update 1: Changes lede, headline, adds details and minor edits throughout)
Sydney, Australia, May 21 (EFE).- The two main candidates vying to lead Australia for the next three years cast their votes in the country’s federal election on Saturday, in what was expected to be a tight race.
According to the latest polls, the opposition Labor Party and its leader Anthony Albanese had slight advantages over the ruling Liberal-National coalition and its leader and incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is seeking re-election.
East coast states were the first to open their polling booths at 8 am local time, before the rest of the country across three time zones and 7,000 voting stations. They will close at 6 pm (10:00 GMT) in the state of Western Australia.
Morrison, in power since 2018 and the first leader to serve a full term in 15 years, began his day early in Melbourne and later cast his vote at a school in the south Sydney seat of Cook with his wife Jenny and daughters Lily and Abbey.
Scandals throughout Morrison’s term have battered his image as a political leader, but he told reporters that this election isn’t about him.
“This election has never been about me or my feelings or anything like that. It’s always been about the Australian people,” he said at a press conference.
Albanese was also an early riser in Melbourne before traveling to vote with his partner Jodie Haydon and his son Nathan at Marrickville Town Hall in his inner-western Sydney electorate of Grayndler.
“My message is I want to represent all Australians. I want to unite the country,” he said, according to SBS.
“I want to bring people together. Regardless of how people vote, it is good that people express their views at the ballot box, then we unite and move forward.”
Morrison’s drop in popularity and Albanese’s perceived lack of charisma have created a reluctance among voters who could opt for alternative candidates and, according to polls, lead to a minority government.
Given this scenario, minor parties such as the Greens and independent candidates could be key to forming a government.
Voting is compulsory for more than 17.2 million Australians to elect the 151 representatives of the Lower House and 40 of the 76 senators.
More than 5.5 million people cast their vote in advance, while another 2.7 million applied for postal voting. The authorities impose a fine of AU$20 ($14) for those who fail to cast their vote.
The electoral campaign has revolved mainly around the economy and the rise in the cost of living, as a result of 5.1 percent inflation – the highest in decades, in addition to climate change and foreign policy.
The results are expected Saturday night, although they may be delayed if the vote count is very close. EFE