Brisbane, Australia (CNN)Votes are being counted in Australia to determine who will lead the country in an election that could see the center-right government lose its mandate after nine years.
Australia's colorful election day could upend the coalition government
Scott Morrison is asking voters to give him a second term in office as Prime Minister after three years dominated by the pandemic, climate disasters, and accusations of dishonesty.
Morrison's popularity has waned since he defied polls to clinch a "miracle" win over Labor in 2019, and this election is seen as a referendum on his self-confessed "bulldozer" leadership style.
Morrison's main rival is Anthony Albanese, a Labor Party veteran who inherited the party leadership after his shell-shocked predecessor stepped down following the 2019 election loss.
This time Labor has stripped back its policy offerings to narrow the difference between it and the ruling Liberal-National coalition, though all three are facing an unprecedented challenge from "teal" Independents, who are campaigning for more climate action and political integrity.
The major parties need at least 76 seats to govern outright -- any less and they'll have to negotiate with smaller parties and Independents to secure enough support to form a minority government.
Two hours after the close of polls on the east coast, no clear winner had emerged -- if it's a hung parliament, the future leadership of Australia could take days or even weeks to resolve.
After leading the polls for weeks, the odds narrowed for a Labor win in the final days before the vote, though public surveys are being approached with caution after the 2019 upset. Then, even bookmakers were caught off guard with SportsBet reportedly losing more than $5 million after paying out a Labor win two days early.
Australian elections are typically a two-horse race between the Liberal-National coalition and the Labor Party -- and while their policies seem similar, they are some important distinctions.
The most globally significant is their stance on the climate crisis.
The Morrison government has been called a climate "holdout" by the United Nations Secretary-General after outlining a plan to get to net zero by 2050 by creating massive new gas projects. The government says it backs a transition from coal to renewable energy, but has no plans to stop new coal projects.<