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Australia in cliff-hanger general election

20 sierpnia, 2010

Australia\'s opposition leader Tony Abbott campaigned for 36 hours solid as a poll Friday put him neck-and-neck with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, indicating the closest general election in decades.

Abbott and Gillard, the country\'s first female leader, launched a last-day flurry of interviews and visits as the latest Newspoll showed a 50-50 percent split between the two major parties, erasing the government\'s slender lead.

Abbott, a conservative climate-change sceptic known as the "Mad Monk" for his training as a priest, toured Sydney through the night, visiting a police station and a flower market, as Gillard hit the airwaves and marginal seats.

"I have been on a blitz over the last 30 hours or so. I\'ve done six TV interviews, 14 radio interviews and I\'ve visited 10 electorates," Abbott told journalists.

"I am running for the biggest job in the country, and if you\'re running for a big job, you\'ve got to make a big effort."

A separate Galaxy survey said Labor had maintained its slim 52-48 percent advantage heading into Saturday\'s election, a compulsory vote for 14 million electors across one of the world\'s largest countries.

Consistently tight polls have raised the prospect of the first hung parliament in 70 years while Gillard, who ousted elected leader Kevin Rudd in June, could be thrown out of office after just eight weeks.

"There is a very, very real risk that (voters) will wake up on Sunday and Mr Abbott will be prime minister," Gillard said. "So, tomorrow is the day for choosing."

Rupert Murdoch\'s populist newspaper titles in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne all came out in favour of Abbott on Friday, boosting a late charge which has put him in sight of an unlikely election win.

No Australian government has lasted just one term since 1931, when Labor\'s James Scullin -- like Gillard, a red-head -- was voted out during turmoil caused by the Great Depression.

"Yes He Can," read the main headline on Sydney\'s Daily Telegraph, playing on Gillard\'s Barack Obama-style "Yes we will" promises in a major speech this week.

"If ever there was a blatant admission by a party of its own failings... it was the South American-style coup that ended Kevin Rudd\'s prime ministership," a front-page editorial said.

But the unmarried, atheist Gillard, a "Ten Pound Pom" whose parents emigrated from Wales, was backed by Fairfax newspapers including the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne\'s The Age, showing the split in public opinion.

"Julia Gillard has done enough to be given a chance to lead the nation; and not to be the first prime minister in 80 years to lead a government tossed out after one term," the Herald said.

Gillard has struggled to reassure voters over her faction-led dismissal of Rudd, who led Labor to a rousing 2007 election win against John Howard but fell in the approval ratings this year.

She has also bungled announcements on the key issues of climate change and immigration, and admitted failing to project the "real Julia" -- known for her down-to-earth charm and sharp wit -- during a highly stage-managed campaign.

Meanwhile Abbott has toned down his maverick image in a disciplined performance that has played on fears over illegal immigrants, the government\'s budget deficit and soaring living costs.

The London-born father-of-three was rank outsider for prime minister when he became surprise Liberal leader in December, but defied expectations to unify the party and shake Labor\'s tight grip on power.

Defeat would drive Labor from power less than three years after Rudd\'s decisive win against 11-year leader Howard on promises of action on climate change and Australia\'s impoverished Aborigines.

"I think it\'s too close to call at the moment. I think this is really, really tight," said Labor campaign spokesman Chris Bowen.

"There\'s opinion polls out this morning, some saying 50-50. I think this will go right down to the wire and be the closest election in 50 years."