Australian election: Voters go to the polls as gap between two parties narrows

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Australians head to the polls on Saturday to vote in a national election that shows the Opposition ahead in opinion polls.

The Labor Party is narrowly ahead of the ruling conservative coalition although a strong showing by climate-focused independents could lead to a hung parliament.

Centre-left Labor held a decent lead going into the campaign after nine years in opposition, but recent polls
showed Prime Minister Scott Morrison's centre-right Liberal-National government narrowing the gap in the final stretch of a tough, six-week campaign.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese's centre-left Labor Party is a favourite to win its first election since 2007.

But Mr Morrison defied the opinion polls in 2019 by leading his coalition to a narrow victory. A win this time would see him secure an historic fourth term.

His coalition holds the narrowest of majorities - 76 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form a government.

Explainer: How do Australia's elections work and who are the ones to watch in 2022?

Both leaders will campaign in Melbourne on Saturday before voting in their hometown of Sydney.

The first polling stations will close on the country's east coast at 6 pm local time (0800 GMT). The west coast is two hours behind.

Due to the pandemic, more than 48% of Australia's 17 million electors have voted early or applied for postal votes, which will likely slow the count.

The government changed regulations on Friday to enable people recently infected with COVID-19 to vote over the phone.

Voting is compulsory for adult citizens and 92% of registered voters cast ballots at the last election.

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