Australia’s leaders still hanging in suspense

CANBERRA,
Australia — The contenders to become
Australia’s next prime minister are promising to govern for a full term if
three key independent lawmakers support their competing parties to form an
administration after indecisive elections.

The independents are likely to
decide whether Julia Gillard’s Labour Party or opposition leader Tony Abbott’s
Liberal Party-led coalition forms a government after elections failed to give
any party a majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives for the first
time in 70 years.

Independents Rob Oakeshott, Tony
Windsor and Bob Katter opened negotiations with the two leaders on Wednesday
and presented each with wish lists including a demand for a pledge to govern
for the full three years. A prime minister might be tempted to call early elections
as soon as opinion polls showed a chance of winning a majority.

Gillard qualified her pledge,
saying that a by-election due to a government lawmaker becoming sick could be
enough to bring down a minority administration.

“If I was the incoming prime
minister, out of this process, to the extent that I could control it, my guarantee
to go full term is unequivocal,” Gillard told reporters.

Conservative opposition leader
Abbott said he told the independents “there would be no election prior to
August 2013, should I become prime minister.”

The independents say their top
demand is for details of how much the competing election promises would cost
the nation in areas including telecommunications, health and education.

Gillard said she was inclined to
release what costings were available.

Abbott has not agreed to the
independents’ request that he submit his election promises to the Treasury
Department to be officially costed. But he said the independents were welcome
to see calculations by a private accounting firm commissioned by his party.

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