Australians will go to the polls on Saturday following a six-week campaign focused on pandemic-fueled inflation, climate change and fears of a Chinese military outpost being established less than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) off Australia’s shore.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition seeks a rare fourth three-year term.
In April, he began the campaign by urging voters to stick with a government that delivered one of the lowest pandemic death tolls of any advanced economy rather than risk the opposition centre-left Labor Party.
But his nickname “ScoMo” was changed by critics to “SloMo” a year ago when Australia’s vaccine rollout fell months behind schedule.
Australia has recorded more than double the number of COVID-19 deaths this year than it did during the first two years of the pandemic. Around 8,000 people have died from COVID-19 among Australia’s population of 26 million. Only 2,239 died in 2020 and 2021. The more transmissible virus variants have tarnished the government’s pandemic record.
The government changed voting regulations on Friday to enable thousands of people who have recently been infected with COVID-19 to vote by phone.
“Making this change this late in the process is not without risk, but we think it’s worthwhile, particularly given the community sentiment. That is why we’ve asked the government to make that change, and the government has agreed,” Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said.
The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have pushed up costs of living and cast doubt on the conservatives’ boast of being better economic managers than Labor.