Results from Australia's national election show conservative challenger Tony Abbott set to win a landslide victory. Incumbent prime minister Kevin Rudd has already accepted defeat and congratulated his rival.
Speaking at a party function in Brisbane in his home state of Queensland, Rudd said he had telephoned Abbott to concede defeat.
"As prime minister of Australia I wish him well in the high office of prime minister of this country," said Rudd who was the key candidate for center-left Labor party which governed for six years. .
Rudd added that he would step down as Labor chief to give the party a "fresh start" to sort out its leadership.
"From today, I declare that Australia is under new management and that Australia is once again open for new business," Abbott said.
With more than 90 percent of the vote counted, the Australian Electoral Commission said Abbott's Liberal/National coalition was heading for a landslide win. It was leading in 88 seats of the 150-seat House of Representatives, to Labor's 57.
The result looks set to end Australia's first minority government since World War Two. Rudd's Labor Party, which has been in power since 2007, had relied upon independent and Greens support for the past three years.
Australia's complicated system of preferential voting could mean a delay of a week before final results. Interest on Saturday switched to the Senate, where the Greens, independents and fringe parties might still hold the balance of power, enabling them to frustrate Abbott's legislative agenda.
Economy to the fore
The election was fought largely on economic issues, with Abbott promising among other things to scrap an unpopular tax on carbon emissions introduced by Labor in 2010.
Many consumers have felt that companies who are forced to pay the tax are passing those extra costs onto their customers by pushing up prices.
Refugee policy was also a key issue in some electorates amid concerns about a spate of asylum seekers arriving by boat from Indonesia in Australia's northwest.
Both parties vowed to stem the flow of refugees. Labor in July instigated harsh new measures to have asylum seekers processed and resettled in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the Pacific, while Abbott proposed plans to have the navy turn back the boats.
However, Labor's internal troubles may well also have deterred voters. Rudd was dumped by the party in 2010 to make way for the country's first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, only for Gillard to be unceremoniously removed by Rudd later as her public popularity ratings sank.
Former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke told Sky television he thought personality politics had played too great a role in the party.
"The personal manipulations and pursuits of interest have dominated more than they should and in the process the concentration on values has slipped," he said.
"I really believe this was an election that was lost by the government rather than one that was won by the opposition."
Assuming that an Abbott election is confirmed, he will face the challenge of adjusting to the end of a mining investment boom that has been fueled by China's voracious imports of Australian natural resources.
Critics say his planned spending cuts will have a negative effect on the Australian economy. Abbott has promised to bring debt down by making billions of dollars in savings.
tj/ipj (Reuters, AFP)