SYDNEY — Australia entered its second week of political deadlock Sunday, with neither Prime Minister Julia Gillard or her conservative challenger Tony Abbott able to form a government after national polls.
With votes still being counted, Gillard, the first woman to lead the nation of 22 million, and Abbott are attempting to woo independent lawmakers crucial to forming a government.
Two of these 'kingmaking' independents -- rural MP Tony Windsor and former intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie -- said Sunday they would likely make their decision on who they would prefer to govern within days.
"We're entering into a range of meetings this week. I would hope that by the end of the week we should be able to make a decision," Windsor said.
Australians voted in the country's first hung parliament in 70 years at the August 21 polls -- delivering Abbott's Liberal/National coalition 73 seats and Gillard's centre-left Labor 72, but giving neither the 76 seats needed to rule.
Whoever forms government will have to rely on the support of the non-aligned MPs -- Wilkie, Windsor and fellow rural independents Robb Oakeshott and Bob Katter, and the Greens lawmaker Adam Bandt.
Asked the chances of Australians having to return to the polls, Windsor said there was "probably a 10 percent chance".
"I don't think it is likely because I think there is genuine intent on behalf of both of the leaders to actually try to make something work," he told Network Ten's Meet The Press programme.
Wilkie, a former Army lieutenant colonel who publicly questioned the war on Iraq before the 2003 US-led invasion and who met with Gillard on Saturday, said he would make his decision "very soon".
"I would hope to make my decision Tuesday or Wednesday -- that's what the people want," he told Channel Nine, adding that it would be bad for Australia if the political impasse dragged on.
"I'm well aware that stability is very important. There is already a restlessness in the community that it's over a week since the election and we're still to know who is going to govern Australia for the next three years."
The Labor government, which Gillard headed for just eight weeks before going to the polls, took a beating on election day, losing a swathe of seats won in 2007 by former leader Kevin Rudd, whom she ousted in a party room coup in June.
While Abbott -- a former minister in the conservative administration of John Howard and a one-time trainee for the Catholic priesthood -- delivered a surprising number of votes for his coalition after a disciplined campaign.
But neither has a sweeping mandate to rule, prompting a cartoon in The Sydney Morning Herald to comment this week that while the people have spoken, they appeared to have only said: "Yeah, whatever."
Gillard's deputy Wayne Swan said the government respected the way people had voted and pointed to a change in the way politics is carried out in Canberra.
"I think this is an exciting opportunity for parliamentary reform for a new government to put in place a different approach," Swan said Sunday, adding that this could include placing time limits on questions in parliament.
Abbott too has said the spirit of parliament has been "needlessly confrontational", suggesting a "kinder, gentler polity".
Windsor called for calm Sunday as the lawmakers worked to resolve the deadlock.
"I think this is a time for cool heads," he said. "A lot of people might not like the situation we are in. I didn't put myself in this position but ... I think we've got to try and make reasonable decisions based on information before us and hopefully come to some conclusion."
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