Australia's first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has predicted “a tough, tight, close contest” in Saturday's snap general election.

In a last-minute political hard-sell in Sydney on Friday, she reaffirmed her “positive plans” for the country's future. And, drawing attention to public opinion surveys, one of which indicated the possibility of a photo-finish, she said the “real risk” for Australia was that opposition Liberal leader Tony “Abbott is Prime Minister on Sunday”.

When Ms. Gillard called the election shortly after unseating Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister in what many saw as a political coup within the ruling Australian Labour Party, she started as a favourite to keep her new job.

However, Mr. Abbott, known for his passion for fitness, began closing the gap and caught unusual attention through a marathon campaign spell that included an overnight vigil for votes.

Apparently stung by this turn of events, Ms. Gillard raised the pitch for her agenda of “investing in jobs, schools, trades training centres, computers for kids, better teaching, [and in] empowered school principals… hospitals and health”.

Throughout the campaign, she projected her preference for “fair” working conditions as a superior alternative to the opposition's policy on industrial relations. Mr. Abbott and his Liberal-National coalition consistently harped on cost of living and made light of her story on Australia's handling of the global economic crisis.

The opposition also sought to keep the focus firmly on how Ms. Gillard toppled Mr. Rudd. This was projected as a prime issue of political trustworthiness and a potential factor in the people's judgment. The coalition's hopes of a ‘Rudd backlash' for Labour were hardly concealed. Mr. Rudd attracted much attention on Friday when he campaigned for Labour outside his home-state.

The campaign was largely dominated by domestic issues, except for those relating to the “boat people” or asylum-seekers from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and other places. On the final campaign day, Mr. Abbott made it a point to emphasise that he would restrict such flows.

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