Australian PM almost certain victor in election but no celebration

Pollsters said a long-delayed victory, albeit a very tight one, was virtually in the bag but the man himself was more circumspect

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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looked almost certain to retain power after a bruising national election as key independent lawmakers pledged support and marathon vote counting in close-run electorates leaned in his favor on Friday.

Pollsters said a long-delayed victory, albeit a very tight one, was virtually in the bag but the man himself was more circumspect, declining to declare the win until final seats were counted.

Turnbull’s gamble in calling an election, ostensibly to clear the Senate of what he saw as obstructive minor parties, backfired badly with a swing to the center-left Labor opposition and a rise in the popularity of minor parties and independents.

The minority government that Turnbull is now expected to lead will no longer have a clear mandate for his Centre-right Liberal-National coalition’s jobs and growth agenda, including a return to budget surplus and a A$50 billion ($37.6 billion) corporate tax break.

“Australians have voted, we respect their decision, there are many lessons in that election for all of us,” Turnbull told reporters in Melbourne, reprimanding his industry minister, Christopher Pyne, who appeared to celebrate prematurely when he described the coalition as an “election-winning machine”.

“We’re taking those lessons to heart very seriously and we respect the votes that have been cast, and one way we show that respect is by waiting for the counting to be completed, or completed to the point where the decision is claimed,” Turnbull said.

Counting of votes from Saturday’s election dragged on into a sixth day, with a rubber stamping of Turnbull’s government expected to be still a few days away, but the likelihood of a minority government and an obstructive Senate has already set off alarm bells.

Standard and Poor’s cut Australia's credit rating outlook to negative from stable on Thursday, threatening a downgrade of its coveted triple A status, over fears.

“We really want to see them start achieving some of their forecasts,” S&P associate director of sovereign and international public finance Anthony Walker told a briefing, noting that the cost of refinancing Australia’s debt is up to three times more than it earns in foreign currency.