Counting begins in Australia's nail-biter election -The Asian Age

The first polls closed and counting was under way on Saturday (May 21) in Australia's fiercely fought national election that could end a decade of unbroken conservative rule.

Election frontrunner Anthony Albanese asked voters to give his centre-left party a "crack" at running the country, and urged people to spurn "divisive" Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Albanese, the 59-year-old Labor Party leader, said he was "very positive" about the outcome as Australians went to the polls in their millions.

The long and often bitter campaign has focused on the character of the two leaders, with policy largely put on the back burner.

Morrison - behind in the pre-election polls - has been buoyed by a resurgent post-lockdown economy and a 48-year-low jobless rate.

He has painted his rival as a "loose unit" who is unfit to steer the economy, but has been plagued by low personal approval ratings, accusations of dishonesty and of putting spin before substance. Albanese - who himself has been described as bland and uninspiring - focused heavily on Morrison's alleged failings in the final days of the campaign.

Australians "want someone who is fair dinkum, someone who will 'fess up if they make a mistake" said the Labor leader.

After three years marked by punishing bushfires, drought, floods and the pandemic, Morrison will have to beat the odds to emerge victorious.

The 54-year-old has not led in the polls for months, and entered election day with a duo of surveys putting his Liberal National Party coalition six points behind Labor, well outside the margin of error.

Young Australians are increasingly angry at the government's pro-coal policies and a housing market that is largely out of reach.