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Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 22:22 GMT

Howard claims narrow victory

Australian Prime Minister John Howard celebrates

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Australian Prime Minister John Howard is claiming victory in the national election but a much-reduced majority ensures that he will face a rough ride in pursuing his plans.

Computer projections late on Saturday showed that his majority has been cut to about six from 44 in the 148-seat lower house of parliament,

John Howard claims victory
Mr Howard told supporters in Sydney that the full election result would take a few more days, but added: "It's clear the coalition will have a working majority in the new parliament."

Michael Peschardt: in the end the economy mattered most
The vote was as close as opinion polls predicted, with many seats won and lost on tiny percentages.

Immigration was a key issue in the campaign - but the leader of the anti-immigration One Nation party, Pauline Hanson, failed to hold her seat, and the party's other candidates were also unsuccessful.

The BBC's Correspondent in Sydney, Red Harrison, says that with votes still to be counted in western Australia, which is two hours behind the eastern states, Labor could still win enough seats to give Australia a hung parliament.

Mr Howard said one of his priorities, as it has been throughout his five-week campaign, was to claim a mandate for introducing a controversial 10% tax on goods and services.

[ image: John Howard casts his vote]
John Howard casts his vote
He said: "I want to thank the Australian people for embracing a bold economic reform that is in the long-term interests of the Australian community."

He said his reforms, part of measures to protect against the global economic slowdown, had survived a "dishonest fear campaign".

He also used his re-election speech to address what was seen as one of the main weaknesses of his first term in office - strained relations with Australia's Aboriginal population.

"I also want to commit myself very genuinely to the cause of true reconciliation with the Aboriginal people of Australia by the centenary of federation," he said to cheers from the crowd.

"I think all Australians are united in a determination to achieve it."

[ image:  ]
He praised the Australian values of "treating people decently and of not discriminating against people according to their race or ethnic background".

Computer analysis by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation suggests that Kim Beazely's opposition Labor Party has won a good number of seats from the government, but not the 27 required to deliver a majority.

Labor Party leader Kim Beazley on his party's showing
The conservatives' 40-seat lead in the last election looks set to be reduced to five or six.

Mr Beazley said Labor had rebuilt itself since 1996, when Mr Howard swept to power, and was now much stronger.

His father, Kim Beazley Senior, a minister in the 1972-75 Labor government, said his son had repaired the damage to the party and had a good chance of becoming prime minister at the next election.

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John Howard: Proven resilience

Pauline Hanson: Voice of nationalism

Kim Beazley: Too nice a guy?