WELL, it’s that time in the democratic cycle again. Four years ago, on December 14 the Court-Cowan Conservative Government was given another four years in office.The choice of the pre-Christmas 1996 election date surprised many seasoned observers because for years WA campaigns got rolling after Christmas, during the school summer holidays.Premier Richard Court, who had been under pressure from senior Liberal and National colleagues to go early, finally agreed to a pre-Christmas poll. The reason for that ploy was because his Government had registered healthy poll leads over Labor throughout all of 1996.The Conservatives returned with an increased majority and in the process Mr Court received pats on the back from party pals for they felt they could enjoy the Christmas holidays without having to door knock when most voters were in a festive mood.There is nothing stopping him doing the same this December. That said, it should be noted that the Government could quite easily hold off until April, 2001 before going to the people. But that’s unlikely because the last time there was an election in that month was in the 1950s. March is more likely. After all, John Tonkin’s Labor Government waited until March in 1974.With petrol prices rising (and likely to go higher) and Morgan Poll results distinctly favouring Labor now, holding out until March or at least late February looks more likely.On election day 1996 the two party preferred Morgan Poll results showed the Conservatives with 55.2 per cent, while Labor had just 44.8 per cent electoral backing. Yet, by July-August 1998 there had been a big turn-around the Conservatives falling to 46.5 per cent and Labor at a healthy 53.5 per cent. Not once since then has Mr Court pipped Labor.Unless there is a marked turnaround or at least a significant converging of the poll figures this month, the December option is out.Mr Court’s best options would appear to be to waiting until after Christmas, meaning his former back-slapping mates can expect to be door knocking in temperatures of 40 degrees plus.However, the bad Conservative poll results are not as fearsome for Mr Court and his team as they appear on first inspection. One reason is that it is highly unlikely that the swing will be even across the State.Another is that two of his marginal seats (Carine 2.2 per cent) and (Alfred Cove 2.4 per cent) had disaffected ex-Liberals standing against the sitting MPs last time who drew solid support.Moreover, Mr Court’s 1996 December poll decision is paying big dividends now for it has put him into a comfortable box seat for the coming campaign.When he went into the 1996 campaign he held just 26 Assembly seats but emerged with 29. The Nationals picked up six, so the Conservatives together have a huge 35 MPs in a 57-member chamber.Labor was left with just 19 Assembly MPs. Since then one, Larry Graham, has defected and sits as an independent.The others are former Liberal powerbroker Phil Pendal, one-time Labor minister and retiring Kimberley MP Ernie Bridge and Dr Liz Constable who has WA’s safest seat of Churchlands.Mr Graham can expect to attract enough Liberal preferences in the Pilbara at the coming contest so is likely to hold it, denying it to Labor. What that means is that Labor leader, Dr Geoff Gallop, must snatch a huge 11 seats to reverse his formidable 17-seat gap to gain government.Can he do it? The answer is obviously yes. After all Victoria’s once popular and much praised, Jeff Kennett, became a feather duster when few thought it would happen.This year’s May-June Morgan Poll had Labor registering an enormous 15-percentage point lead; 57.5 per cent to just 42.5 per cent to the Conservatives. Even if this was halved, to say just 7.5 per cent and the swing was uniform across the State, 15 Liberals could expect to go, four more than needed to form government.Ignoring the two special cases of Carine and Alfred Cove, the crucial 11th Liberal seat on the WA Electoral Commission’s swing pendulum is Riverton which is held by a narrow 6.7 per cent margin, so well below eight per cent.The outcome of the coming election, whether in December, February or March, is, at this stage, wide open, despite the huge seat disparity facing Labor.But don’t be surprised if a minority Conservative or Labor Government is the outcome. If Labor wins between 26, 27, or 28 seats then Messrs Pendal, Graham and Dr Constable, could expect to also get a say on the nature of the new government in the new century.At the 26-seat mark Dr Gallop would be in the hands of the three independents who are all expected to be returned, even though it is hard to see Pendal and Constable bringing about the installation of a Labor Government.But such an eventuality would certainly spark a series of behind closed-door meetings where incentives would be offered to the independents.Another tantalising prospect, and perhaps a more realistic one because Pendal and Constable are Independent Liberals, is Mr Court losing a bag of seats to Dr Gallop and having to rely on their votes to ensure he remained premier.
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