Australia’s ruling conservative coalition won a surprise victory in the country’s general election on Saturday, defying opinion polls that had tipped the center-left opposition party to oust it from power and promising an end to the revolving door of national leaders.
The results upended pre-election polls which predicted a Labor victory, though it is unclear whether the Scott Morrison-led coalition can govern with an outright majority or will need to negotiate support from independents.
The final result may not be known for some time.
“I have always believed in miracles,” Morrison told cheering supporters at Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel, where the government holds its official election night function.
“Tonight is not about me or it’s not about even the Liberal party. Tonight is about every single Australian who depends on their government to put them first.”
The conservative government has won or is leading in 72 seats in its quest for a 76-seat majority, according to the Australian Electoral Commission, with just over two-thirds of votes counted. Vote counting was to continue on Sunday morning (local time).
Several seats are still too close to call and the final result is complicated by a large number of early votes that have delayed counting.
Morrison’s coalition defied expectations by holding onto a string of outer suburban seats in areas where demographics closest resemble America’s Rust Belt, blocking Labor’s path to victory.
This included a devastating result in the coal-rich state of Queensland, which backed the Pentecostal church-going prime minister by defying expectations and delivering several marginal seats to his government.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten had earlier conceded defeat.
“I’m disappointed for people who depend upon Labor, but I’m glad that we argued what was right, not what was easy,” Shorten told his supporters.
Shorten would have become Australia’s sixth prime minister in as many years. He said he would no longer lead Labor after six years at the helm.
The tight race raised the prospect of the coalition forming a minority government. The conservatives became a rare minority government after they dumped Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister for Morrison in an internal power struggle last August. The government then lost two seats and its single-seat majority as part of the blood-letting that followed.
An unpopular single-term Labor government that was voted out in 2013 had been the only previous minority government since World War II.
Opinion polls prior to Saturday’s election had suggested that the coalition would lose and that Morrison would have had one of the shortest tenures as prime minister in the 118-year history of the Australian federation.
Morrison had focused his campaigning on polling that showed while Labor was more popular than the government, the prime minister was more popular than Shorten.
There was so much public confidence of a Labor victory that Australian online bookmaker Sportsbet paid out AU$1.3 million ($900,000) to bettors who backed Labor two days before the election. Sportsbet said 70% of wagers had been placed on Labor at odds of $1.16.
Another betting agency, Ladbrokes, said it had accepted a record AU$1 million wager on Labor.
Shorten, who campaigned heavily on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said Saturday morning that he was confident Labor would win, but Morrison would not be drawn on a prediction.
Morrison is the conservatives’ third prime minister since they were elected in 2013.
Tony Abbott, who became the first of those three prime ministers in the 2013 election, conceded defeat in the Sydney seat he has held since 1994.
Polling suggests climate change was a major issue in that seat for voters, who instead elected an independent candidate, Zali Steggall. As prime minister in 2014, Abbott repealed a carbon tax introduced by a Labor government. Abbott was replaced by Turnbull the next year because of poor opinion polling, but he remained a government lawmaker.
Morrison began the day Saturday by campaigning in the island state of Tasmania, where the Liberals appeared to have gained two Labor-held seats. He then flew 900 kilometers (560 miles) home to Sydney to vote and to campaign in Sydney seats.
Both major parties promised that whoever won the election would remain prime minister until he next faces the voters’ judgment. The parties have changed their rules to make the process of lawmakers replacing a prime minister more difficult.
During Labor’s last six years in office, the party replaced Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his deputy Julia Gillard, then dumped her for Rudd.