February 5, 2018 / 1:28 AM / 20 days ago

Support for Australian PM hits 10-month high, raises prospect of an early election

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Support for Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is at a near 10-month high, a widely watched poll showed on Monday, a boost for the center-right government that could use an early election to settle a constitutional crisis.

The latest Newspoll, published by The Australian, showed Turnbull’s Liberal-National party coalition now trails the main opposition Labor Party by a margin of 52-48 percent on a two-party basis, the smallest gap since April 2017.

The poll raises the prospect of an early election as Turnbull’s razor thin one-seat majority in Australia’s parliament is again threatened by a previously little known constitutional requirement.

“If Turnbull can get to 50-50, I would not be surprised to see an early election,” said Haydon Manning, a political science professor at Flinders University in South Australia.

The government must head back to the polls by May 2019.

Ten lawmakers have so far been forced from office after falling foul of Australia’s constitution that prohibits dual nationals from elected office, a rule that briefly forced Turnbull to govern in minority form. Several more remain under pressure to answer questions around their eligibility.

Despite the upturn in support for Turnbull, the government has now recorded 26 consecutive polls showing Labor will win a decisive victory at the next election.

Turnbull now faces the embarrassing prospect of surpassing the 30 consecutive losing polls that he said justified his ousting of former leader Tony Abbott in September 2015.

Abbott offered little support to his long-time rival as parliament resumed for the first sitting day of 2018.

“The next election is winnable for the coalition provided we sharpen up the policy difference with Labor,” Abbott told 2GB radio.

Income tax cuts are likely to form the centerpiece of Turnbull’s plan to win favor with the electorate, but with a large budget deficit the government is left with only a few fiscal tools to win over disillusioned voters.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Kim Coghill

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