Canberra, May 9 (BNA) Early voting began Monday in Australia’s federal election, with the opposition party hoping the first ballot would reflect its lead over the government in opinion polls.
Voters began casting ballots at 550 polling stations across the country as two new opinion polls showed the opposition center-left Labor Party has widened its lead over Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition, The Associated Press reported.
Voting is mandatory in Australia and approximately 17 million out of 26 million people are expected to vote. Voting before the poll is available to those who cannot vote on May 21 for reasons including work or travel.
People who are aware of the dangers of COVID-19 are expected to vote early to avoid larger crowds at polling booths on May 21.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said government lawmakers are discouraging voters from voting early in the hope that Labor’s lead will evaporate before Election Day.
“The bells are ringing for the Morrison government because early voting begins today,” Albanese said. “We want people to participate in our democracy and vote when appropriate.”
Morrison said many voters have not yet decided which candidate they will support. “As Australians go to those surveys, they are really starting to focus on the choice they have to make, which is the choice between strength, a strong economy and a weaker economy under Labour,” Morrison said.
Morrison called the election for his last available date to increase the time he had to discredit Albanese as a potential government leader. Using the same tactic in 2019, Morrison defied most polls by leading his coalition to a narrow victory.
His coalition is now seeking a rare fourth three-year term.
More than 40% of the vote was cast before the 2019 elections, and this percentage is expected to rise in the current elections.
Many observers say the government’s popularity has been hurt by the Reserve Bank of Australia’s decision last week to raise interest rates for the first time in 11 years to curb inflation. It was the first time the Reserve Bank of Australia raised the cash rate during an election campaign since 2007.
Two weeks after raising the rate in 2007, Prime Minister John Howard’s Conservative government was voted out of power, ending a reign that lasted more than 11 years.
In the 2019 elections, the combined vote for major parties in the House of Representatives was its lowest since World War II. The trend toward independent and junior candidates in this month’s elections is expected to continue.
Some opinion polls indicate a rare hung parliament that would lead to Morrison or Albanese forming a minority government with the support of unbiased MPs.
Many of the seats held by Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party are being targeted by alleged candidates. They are independents seen as a mixture of the Liberal Party’s official color, which is blue, and the color of the Australian Greens.
Veteran candidates are expected to win the support of traditional conservative voters who are unhappy with the government’s policies on climate change.
Both the government and the opposition have set a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Morrison was widely criticized at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November for failing to set more ambitious end-decade goals.
The government aims to cut emissions 26% to 28% below 2005 levels, while other countries have made even steeper commitments.
Workers have promised to cut emissions by 43% by 2030.