What’s up with the vote Down Under?

Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten delivers a speech during the ‘Vote for Change Rally’ at Bowman Hall in Blacktown, Sydney May 16, 2019. — AAP Image via Reuters
Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten delivers a speech during the ‘Vote for Change Rally’ at Bowman Hall in Blacktown, Sydney May 16, 2019. — AAP Image via Reuters

SYDNEY, May 16 — From “democracy sausages” to “donkey votes”, here are a few things to know about Australia’s May 18 election:

It’s complicated

Australians have to vote. It’s compulsory, meaning more than 90 per cent of all eligible voters — around 17 million people — usually make their voice heard.

The task is made more palatable by the prospect of avoiding an A$20 (RM83.30) fine and snagging a “democracy sausage”, cooked at one of the traditional “sizzles” that pop up outside polling stations.

But it is not as easy as stuffing your face and walking in and pulling a lever.

The ballot requires voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

If no one gets 50 per cent in first-preference votes, then the last place candidate gets eliminated and their preference votes get redistributed.

Most parties hand out “how to vote” cards for those unable or unwilling to do some research. Even so, some voters chose a “donkey vote” — ranking the candidates as they appear on the ballot paper.

What are they voting for?

There are 151 seats in the lower house up for grabs (more than the previous 150) — any party in the majority can form a government, or the largest party can try to form a working coalition, with their leader becoming prime minister.

The ruling Liberal-National coalition currently has 73 seats. Labor holds 72, with the Greens and Independents forming a cross-bench of six seats.

Forty of 76 Senate seats are also up for grabs.

Didn’t Australia just vote?

No. But it did change prime ministers after the ruling Liberals ousted Malcolm Turnbull as head of their party.

He was replaced by Scott Morrison, the latest beneficiary of Canberra’s revolving-door politics, which has seen the country change prime ministers six times in 11 years.

A 51-year-old evangelical, he owes his premiership to the Liberal party’s right wing, but has struggled to keep women and moderates on board, with one senior minister reportedly labelling her colleagues “homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers”.

The polls are very close, but the Liberals are tipped to lose to Labor, which would mean opposition leader Bill Shorten becomes prime minister.

Shorten has been at the Labor party helm since 2013. The 52-year-old former union leader was instrumental in ousting of former Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and then Julia Gillard.

He led Labor into the 2016 election but lost to Malcolm Turnbull.

What are they promising?

Morrison has showered voters with promises of tax cuts and infrastructure spending and pitched the coalition as the only capable stewards of the economy.

Shorten has promised more populist economic policies — tax increases on high earners, measures to tackle stagnant wages and one of the world’s highest costs of living.

He has also budgeted a referendum on having an Australian head of state, after — as he put it — ”borrowing” a monarch from the other side of the world for more than 200 years. — AFP

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