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Independents break election deadlock in Australia

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Political deadlock ends in Australia
  • NEW: Lawmakers detail their decision
  • The independents side with Prime Minister Julia Gillard
  • The Labor Party is returned to power
  • Courting of the independents went down to the wire

(CNN) -- Two independent lawmakers from rural Australia broke a parliamentary deadlock on Tuesday, giving the country its first elected female prime minister.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who replaced Kevin Rudd as leader of the center-left Labor Party in June, now has the votes to form a government, but lacks a mandate.

A national election on August 21 didn't produce a clear winner. That pitted Gillard against conservative Tony Abbott in the quest for the independents' support. Gillard and Abbott needed 76 votes for a parliamentary majority.

Independent parliament members Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor held the upper hand in down-to-the-wire political deal-making. In the final hour, Katter announced that he would cast his vote with Abbott. Then Windsor and Oakeshott sided with Gillard.

Video: Opposition concedes election

At a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Windsor and Oakeshott spelled out how they made their decisions.

They described negotiation points that included the need to balance rural priorities with urban ones, such as broadband access and education.

"No one in any city needs to be scared. We are asking for equity," Oakeshott said.

He described extensive talks with Gillard and Abbott, and disenfranchised groups, before he and Windsor made their choice.

Oakeshott also stressed that Gillard lacks a mandate, and that the independents' continuing support depends on Gillard's government keeping faith.

Balancing urban-rural priorities and dealing with immigration and an aging workforce are among Australia's top political issues.

The country's economy has stayed relatively strong despite the global economic crisis. The demand for commodities from trading partners such as China have helped bolster resource-rich Australia.

In July, the country posted a 5.2 percent unemployment rate, according to the Australia Bureau of Statistics. By comparison, the U.S. unemployment rate stood at 9.6 percent in August.