|Abbott, Australia's conservatives win sweeping election victory||
Australia's "unelectable" and gaffe-prone political leader, Tony Abbott, confounded critics Saturday by becoming the country's latest prime minister, leading the opposition to a sweeping election victory and ending six years of Labor Party rule.
Abbott, the leader of the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition, rode a wave of public bitterness over a hated carbon emissions tax, worries about a flagging economy and frustration over government infighting to win the election.
The result was a stunning turnaround for Abbott, a 55-year-old former Roman Catholic seminarian and Rhodes scholar who has never been particularly popular and was once dubbed unelectable by opponents and some of his own supporters.
He emerged victorious thanks, in large part, to the frustration of a country fed up with Labor and its once-popular leader, Kevin Rudd, who had engaged in a years-long power struggle with his former deputy, Julia Gillard. Gillard, who became the nation's first female prime minister after ousting Rudd in a party vote in 2010, ended up losing her job to Rudd three years later in a similar internal party coup.
"I now look forward to forming a government that is competent, that is trustworthy and which purposefully and steadfastly and methodically sets about delivering on our commitments to you the Australian people," Abbott told supporters in his victory speech Saturday night.
With more than 90 percent of votes counted, official figures from the Australian Electoral Commission showed the Liberals ahead 53 percent to Labor's 47 percent. The coalition was on track to win 91 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, and Labor 54.
Abbott has vowed to scrap the carbon tax from July 2014 - two years after it was implemented - and instead introduce taxpayer-funded incentives for polluters to operate cleaner.
It is unclear whether Abbott will be able to pass the necessary law changes through Parliament, but he has threatened to call early elections if the Senate thwarts him.
Australia's new leader inherits a slowing economy, hurt by the cooling of a mining boom that kept the resource-rich nation out of recession during the global financial crisis.
Abbott has promised to slash foreign aid spending as he concentrates on returning the budget to surplus. Labor spent billions of dollars on economic stimulus projects to avoid recession. But declining corporate tax revenues from a slowdown in mining forced Labor to break a promise to return the budget to surplus in the last fiscal year.
Abbott has also promised to repeal a tax on coal and iron ore mining companies, which he blames in part for the downturn in the mining boom. The 30 percent tax on the profits of iron ore and coal miners was designed to cash in on burgeoning profits from a mineral boom fueled by Chinese industrial demand. But the boom was easing before the tax took effect. The tax was initially forecast to earn the government 3 billion Australian dollars ($2.7 billion) in its first year, but brought in only AU$126 million after six months.
Saturday's election likely brought Australia's first Aboriginal woman to Parliament. Former Olympian Nova Peris is almost certain to win a Senate seat for Labor in the Northern Territory, but the final results will not be known for days. Less likely is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's bid for a Senate seat in Victoria state.
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