SYDNEY - Counting of 1.5 million postal and absentee votes critical in Australia's cliffhanger election began on Tuesday as loyalists of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended their embattled leader against calls for his resignation.
Turnbull's conservative coalition has secured 68 seats, opposition Labor 67, with 10 seats in doubt, according to projections by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The major parties need 76 seats to form a majority government.
Vote counting is expected to drag on for days, possibly weeks, leaving Australia in a political vacuum.
Turnbull's disastrous polling at Saturday's election has led to attacks from inside and outside his party, as the political stability he had sort with an early election evaporated with a wave of independents winning office.
Attorney-General George Brandis has warned his colleagues that sniping at Turnbull threatens to undermine the prime minister's ability to bargain with those very independents.
"It is not helpful for anyone on the coalition side to be engaging in the kind of public criticism which might potentially weaken Mr Turnbull's bargaining position," Brandis told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
"Stability is always better than instability, discipline is always better than indiscipline, playing a team game is always better than self-indulgence."