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Australian leader home for election

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February 17, 2001 


SYDNEY, Australia (AP) Australia's main political parties were bracing Friday for further signs of the resurgence of the anti-immigrant One Nation party in weekend state elections.

Hot on the heels of a stunning election performance last weekend in Western Australia, in which the right-wing party polled nearly 10 percent of the vote, pundits expect the party to do well again in Queensland, the state that witnessed its meteoric emergence and equally rapid fall.

In 1998, at the height of its popularity, One Nation, led by former fish and chip restaurant owner Pauline Hanson, won 11 seats in Queensland's 89-seat state parliament.

The rise of the party sent shock waves through the region because of Hanson's strident anti-Asian rhetoric.

But within months, infighting and disillusionment with its leadership shattered the party.

One lawmaker quit shortly after the election and later committed suicide, six others broke away to form a new party and the remaining four now call themselves independents.

Hanson's party is fielding 39 candidates in Saturday's poll. Although Hanson is not running for office, enthusiastic crowds of mainly elderly voters have cheered her wherever she has appeared.

One Nation is unlikely to win many seats in Saturday's vote, but could make life difficult for the major parties by splitting their votes and attracting protest voters unhappy with mainstream politicians.

The leader of the sitting Labor government in Queensland, Premier Peter Beattie, said that One Nation would likely be a decisive factor in close-run electorates.

But although Beattie was predicting a tightly fought election, pollsters said his Labor Party would safely hold on to power despite a recent highly public purge within his party after a vote-rigging scandal.

The issue ``was damaging to us, that hurt our vote, but we dealt with that head on,'' Beattie told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The opposition coalition made up of the conservative Liberal and National parties have failed to capitalize on Labor's problems and will likely lose votes to One Nation, which share's the coalition's rural powerbase.

The eastern state of Queensland is Australia's third largest in terms of population with 3.5 million inhabitants.

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