The South Australian Liberal Party is pinning last-minute hopes on a record number of pre-poll and postal votes to scrape into government, but Labor believes it can still win the support of independents to retain power in the state.
Voters will have to wait days for Saturday's election to be decided, but the most likely prospect is a minority government relying on two independents.
The government and the opposition in Canberra are watching the wash-up with keen interest. If Labor holds on to government in the state after the Liberal Party swept to power in Tasmania at the weekend, South Australia would have denied the conservative parties a clean sweep across the federal and state landscapes.
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten said on Sunday the South Australian result reflected voter dissatisfaction about the Abbott government's performance in protecting jobs as well as a wariness about possible cuts to health and education. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was optimistic that the Liberal Party's position would improve as counting progressed of 150,000 pre-poll and postal votes, representing 15 per cent of the total votes cast.
Despite winning 52.5 per cent of the two-party preferred vote - 5 per cent more than Labor - the Liberal Party was left one seat short of being able to form government with 70 per cent of the count completed.
Mr Abbott said he expected the two independent MPs who could decide who forms power to note that the Liberal Party had won a clear majority of the two-party-preferred vote. ''I suspect the people of South Australia will feel cheated if having voted quite substantially for a change of government, that's not what they get.''
Both Liberal leader Steven Marshall and Labor Premier Jay Weatherill were refusing to concede defeat at the weekend.
South Australian Liberal senator Simon Birmingham said his party's state campaign had not been strong enough in key marginal seats, but that he still believed the Liberals could win government. Federal Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne also said the election was far from over.
However, Mr Weatherill said he was confident Labor could retain government, conceding it would likely rely on the support of independents.
Mr Marshall said he believed the Liberal Party was ''still in the hunt'', and also said he was open to the idea of seeking the support of the independents if he could not gain an outright majority in Parliament.
The story Liberals pin hopes on postal votes for the South Australian election first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.