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Australia Votes on New Legislature

February 10, 2001

PERTH, Australia (AP) _ In an early test of party strength ahead of federal elections, Western Australia state voted Saturday for a new state legislature.

The vote pits the opposition Labor Party against the governing conservative coalition. The battle mirrors the federal electoral showdown expected in October or November, when the Labor Party takes on Prime Minister John Howard’s coalition made up of the Liberal and National parties.

Political observers were also closely watching results to gauge whether the far-right One Nation party would make a political comeback after months of infighting.

One Nation fielded candidates in 53 of the state’s 57 electorates. It was expected to pull about 7 percent in urban constituencies and up to 12 percent in rural areas. Leader Pauline Hanson was not running.

Pro-vote polls put the West Australian ruling coalition nearly even with Labor.

Australia’s complex electoral system, in which voters rank candidates by preference, could delay final election results for days if the race is as close as polls have predicted.

State Premier Richard Court is seeking a third term. His coalition holds 35 seats in Parliament. Labor has 18 lawmakers and independents hold four.

Western Australia is Australia’s largest and most sparsely populated state. It covers more than 1 million square miles _ about seven times the area of Germany _ but has a population of only 1.85 million, 1.3 million of whom live in the capital, Perth.

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