Make-or-break for Australian premier
Embattled Liberal government faces critical weekend by-election
Australia’s embattled center-right government faces a make-or-break test this weekend, with by-election voters in Sydney’s wealthy beachside suburbs apparently poised to wipe out Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s slender parliamentary majority.
Polls show the government losing in Wentworth on Saturday and with it their one-seat parliamentary majority, in what has been described as the most consequential by-election in modern Australian history.
Defeat in the once safe Liberal seat would be a huge embarrassment for Morrison – whose two-month tenure as prime minister has been marked by crisis and party infighting – and would send him limping into next year’s general election.
The sprawling constituency takes in the famous Bondi Beach and the haunts of stars like Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman.
“It could not come at a worst time for Scott Morrison because sometimes even winning a by-election might not be enough for a new leader – you have to win it convincingly,” politics expert Nick Economou of Monash University told AFP.
Analysts believe a loss and a minority government would derail the Liberals’ legislative agenda, make Morrison a virtual lame duck prime minister and perhaps even trigger a vote of no confidence in his premiership.
The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Malcolm Turnbull as an MP after he was turfed out of the prime ministership in a party coup, despite calls for him to stay on and not jeopardize the coalition’s hold on power.
“Since the Turnbull demise, they have really been crumbling before our eyes. They are abandoning policies left, right and center. A reshuffle has left them all at sea. Issues that they were strong on they’ve lost their way on,” said Economou.
Morrison has invested heavily in the vote, appearing multiple times on the stump with Liberal candidate Dave Sharma and upending decades of Australian foreign policy in a desperate bid to woo Wentworth’s Jewish voters.
Morrison floated the idea of moving the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that prompted Palestinian anger and infuriated Australia’s Muslim-majority neighbor Indonesia.