A game-changer or merely a lifeline? The most recent political machinations of Australian billionaire turned politician Clive Palmer.

Clive Palmer at his Christmas Charity Lunch with volunteer December 26, 2012. Benjamin J. MacDonald derivative work: Ignorant Armies.

The deal may well have been in the making for quite some time and is likely to be officially announced on

Monday. One of the most colourful and controversial Australians, the billionaire turned politician

Clive Palmer,

is expected to

preference

the Liberals over Labor, a move that could throw the race wide-open again. In order to assess the implications of this move, it is necessary to revisit the

electoral system

of the country, remembering that in Australia, voting is

compulsory,

forcing political parties to appeal to a rather large cross-section of the voting population. In addition, Australia employs

preferential voting, ensuring that a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the ballots cast to be elected. Allocating preferences is not optional, but required of all voters in order to have their ballots validated and counted. Therefore, smaller parties, unlikely to win a majority in a given constituency, increase their political influence by striking

preference deals

with those standing a chance to win a seat in the legislature. In practice, this has led to the two major parties wooing for the support of the minor ones, further ensuring that, in contrast to the traditional

First-past-the-post system

as used in the

United Kingdom

for example, votes for minor parties are not entirely lost. Naturally, dealmaking and horse-trading have become persistent features of election campaigns in Australia.

Clive Palmer’s political party the

United Australia Party, perhaps best described as his privately owned vessel for advancing his political agenda, seems to have struck a deal with the ruling

Liberals.

Reputable

polling

suggests that Palmer’s party currently does quite

well

nationally, but the arrangement between the parties is more nuanced and its consequences mor subtle. Either way, this development might spell trouble for

Labor.

Facing the prospect of electoral defeat makes occasionally for strange bedfellows in politics, but, since the election will be lost or won in

Victoria

and

Queensland , the arrangement reveals that the governing parties believe to be able to pick off key marginals from Labor. Case in point is the seat of

Herbert , currently the most marginal one in the country. With Palmer riding

high

in the polls, and similar patterns existing in some strongly contested marginals in Victoria as well, the impact of this move is not to be dismissed out of hand. However, to what extent Palmer’s support is overrated by pollsters is unclear and will not be known until election night. His party’s embrace of the Liberals might also strengthen the Coalition’s prospect in the

Senate

where the Coalition hopes to pick up additional seats as well.

Yet, this marriage of convenience entails great

risk

too, and the political costs could in the end outweigh any potential benefits the Liberals had initially bargained for. Indeed, not so long ago, relations between the two parties were strained to say the least, and there was no love lost between Morrison and Palmer either, with the

Prime Minister

referring to Palmer and his party as a

circus sideshow

Australians do not need or care for.

Bill Shorten speaks to election volunteers

Electioneering these days involves much more than just getting out the vote. First and foremost, modern campaigning has turned into a game of managing expectations; a fact that has bedevilled the Opposition Leader’s quest for the Lodge so far.

Unlike in

2016, Labor leader

Bill Shorten

went into the race not as the outsider anymore; in fact, in 2019 he is seen as the frontrunner, and his policies have been in the spotlight from day-one of the contest. In

Scott Morrison

Shorten faces an unusually aggressive opponent who has the benefit of a short tenure in the job and has been perceived by many to be the underdog. In essence, Morrison’s position resembles that of Shorten back in 2016, with the additional plus of incumbency. For any frontrunner, this creates a powerful challenge, and Shorten’s lacklustre performance throughout this campaign says little about his personal qualities as a campaigner on the stump. To his credit, he has tried to stay on message, attempting to run on policy and positivity; inevitably, such a strategy entails considerable risk, and Shorten without a doubt feels the heat at present.

This is not to say that all his troubles are due to external forces, and some wounds he now has to patch up have been self inflicted. There was for instance his confusion on Labor’s own

superannuation policy

as well as his ambiguity on the

Adani coal mining

issue that could impede his party’s competitiveness on election-day particularly in Queensland.

The Coalition had also to contend with some policy questions that, at times, threatened to at least temporarily derail Morrison’s reelection bid. One of the more striking ones cutting through all the election noise was the

water buyback scandal

which the Coalition currently tries to get under control.

Thus, approaching the halfway-mark of this campaign, the picture emerging thus far is mixed, and it is difficult to measure how the unfolding campaign is truly perceived on main-street or in the bush. With pre-polling opening on Monday and the first leaders debate on the horizon, voters are likely to start tuning in now. This means that the test-run is over, and the crucial sprint toward the finish-line has begun.

For more on Australian politics read

this.

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