Australia’s government loses by-elections, denting re-election prospects

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s ruling coalition government failed to win any of the five by-elections held this weekend, defeats widely seen as an indication that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces an uphill challenge to secure re-election.

FILE PHOTO: Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) address the media following their talks in Berlin, Germany, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

In what was coined “Super Saturday”, voters in five seats went to the polls after a handful of opposition lawmakers were forced from office after falling foul of the country’s constitution that bans politicians from elected office if they are dual citizens.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) early on Sunday said the five seats were all won by the opposition, dealing a blow to Turnbull, who is under pressure to demonstrate a viable pathway for re-election at the next federal election in less than eight months.

Experts said Turnbull needed a strong showing in Longman, in the state of Queensland, to show he could win favor with conservative voters, many of whom have not taken to the prime minister, a social liberal who made his fortune in banking before entering politics.

Despite Australia’s powerful right-wing party One Nation encouraging its supporters to vote for Turnbull’s candidate, the opposition Labor Party retained the seat. The AEC said Labor retained the seat with a bigger majority than it had secured in 2016.

Turnbull also faces continued strife with his legislative agenda. The prime minister, who has a parliamentary majority of just one, has seen policy frequently influenced by his conservative backbench.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by James Dalgleish and Sandra Maler

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