Balaji Chandramohan –
Australia, known for its healthy and matured democratic tradition, has come out of a tough session after the recently concluded double dissolution elections.
A period of trial for democracy ended with incumbent Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing that his Conservative coalition government was re-elected for a second three-year term.
The 2016 Australian federal election held on July 2 to elect 226 members of the 45th Parliament of Australia, after an extended eight-week official campaign period, was the first double dissolution election since 1987.
Despite victory, Mr Turnbull (Leader of Liberal Party) faces a tough challenge ahead with a divided party, a fractured Senate and a weary electorate.
He went into the election with a comfortable majority of 90 seats and few had predicted it would suffer such steep losses.
Too close to call
Australians usually know who their next leader will be on the night of their vote, but the July 2016 poll was too close to call, triggering a complicated system of centralized vote both at the House of Representatives and Senate level.
The conservative coalition won 77 seats (out of 150 seats), the main opposition Australian Labor Party won 68 seats, the Greens got one sets and four seats were won by independent candidates.
In the Senate, the coalition won 30 seats out of 76 seats, with a loss of three, while the Labor opposition won 26 seats with a gain of one.
The Liberal/National Coalition will require at least nine additional votes to reach a Senate majority, an increase of three for it to pass through bills in the Senate.
Problems at home
The result has raised the prospect that Mr Turnbull could face a leadership challenge from colleagues within. If he is removed, Australia would face political volatility.
But this may well be an aberration.
If he manages to remain in power, Mr Turnbull would also face the wrath of his own colleagues in Liberal Party who are angry about the Party’s performance and the way Tony Abbott was ousted in an internal leadership ballot less than a year ago.
One of the main complications of the elections has been that Mr Turnbull must deal with a fragmented Senate making it tough for him in the debating chamber.
Elections in Australia are conducted using a full-preferential system in one vote, one value single-member seats for the 150-member House of Representatives (Lower House) and is changing from full-preferential group voting tickets to an optional-preferential single transferable vote system of proportional representation in the 76-member Senate (Upper House).
Voting is compulsory, by Westminster convention, but subject to constitutional constraints.
In terms of parliamentary democracy, Australia combines a mature post-colonial parliamentary political system at both the national and state level with commodity exports (particularly minerals) in order to improve its strategic position in the world.
It has a significant manufacturing base and service sector dominated by finance and tourism, a robust stock market and a strong–some argue overvalued currency.
In recent years, Australian politics has been rocked by incessant infighting in both the mainstream parties, resulting in frequent leadership changes.
These in turn have affected the country’s international trade.
The Australian economy is dependent on exports of extractive resources, such as coal, and has been hit hard by the economic slowdown in China, forcing Australians to do some soul-searching about what else their country can offer.
Mr Turnbull is known for his progressive views on climate change, same-sex marriage and the Republican Movement with his back ground as former journalist, barrister and investment banker.
In the run-up to the elections, Mr Turnbull offered a vision of ‘Start-up’ Australia, arguing that his Party is best placed to transition the country from the mining boom to a new phase of economic growth.
The priorities of the newly elected government will be to make Australia a more egalitarian society, better record of democratic governance and rule of law, achieve a higher standard of living and Consolidate its status as a major US strategic ally.
Balaji Chandramohan is our Correspondent based in New Delhi. A graduate in Journalism from Waikato University, he evinces deep interest in the politics and economy of Australia and New Zealand.
Malcolm Turnbull: Tough challenges ahead