Independent Kerryn Phelps is expected to claim victory in Wentworth, robbing the coalition of its majority and forcing Prime Minister Scott Morrison to bargain with the crossbench.
A late run of Liberal postal votes, which briefly reignited the prime minister’s hopes that Liberal candidate Dave Sharma could overtake Dr Phelps, now appears unlikely to change the outcome.
Dr Phelps claimed victory on Saturday night when she achieved an unprecedented swing of more than 20 per cent against the Liberal Party in the eastern Sydney seat.
spicy – Malcolm Turnbull has liked a tweet pushing for a Kerryn Phelps win in Wentworth.
Accidentally? Intentionally? Who knows! pic.twitter.com/09J11DiYjh
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) October 18, 2018
The celebrations were cut short on Sunday when the margin between her and Mr Sharma dramatically closed to less than 900 votes.
However after postal ballots were counted on Sunday night, Dr Phelps held a lead of about 1600 votes.
Liberal Party faithful admit that victory seems unlikely but the candidates aren’t rushing to re-declare a winner until late postal votes are finalised.
Earlier on Sunday the prime minister talked up his relationship with crossbenchers.
“What I will continue to do is be working closely with the crossbenchers, as I have been doing, because … we have been at 75 (seats), not 76, since the former prime minister resigned,” Mr Morrison said.
If Dr Phelps is confirmed the winner, there will be a cross bench of six members in the House of Representatives, with Labor holding 69 seats and the coalition one short of a majority with 75.
Reaction to the by-election result from crossbench members has been mixed, with Bob Katter and Rebekha Sharkie joining Dr Phelps in saying they would prefer to see the government run its full term.
Independent Andrew Wilkie said he would not guarantee confidence, while fellow crossbencher Cathy McGowan is yet to comment.
But Greens MP Adam Bandt said a federal election had to be called and “the sooner we turf out this rotten government, the better”.