Welcome to purgatory. We’re in a political wasteland, a hung parliament, with no clear PM and power hanging in the hands of five MPs: four independents and a Green. Currently it is 73 seats to the Coalition, 72 to Labor, yet 76 seats are needed to govern. And with the end still days away like a desert oasis in the distance, get prepared for the harsh political reality that even when Australia declares its PM, the government may have to negotiate significantly to pass any policy.

Where to now? It’s a collective “um…?” from the commentariat as we hang in political limbo, so I suggest you at least put on some appropriate music. Expect Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to bend over backwards to promise the independents what they want in return for power.

Australia voted along state lines, notes Tim Colebatch in The Age:

“Victoria and Tasmania voted yesterday to re-elect the Labor government. But Queensland and New South Wales voted decisively to throw it out, with Western Australia set to follow. With most of the vote counted, the one certainty appeared to be that neither side would have a majority in the new House of Representatives.”

The end is not in sight. “…the final result may not be known for up to 10 days as pre-poll and postal votes are counted. And the Greens emerged as the big winners in the reshaping of the political landscape, taking the balance of power in the Senate as well as the lower house seat of Melbourne,” reports Sid Maher in The Australian.

Ultimately, yesterday was a brutal day for the Labor Party. Were they right to oust Kevin Rudd as PM? Should Gillard have waited to call an election?

Samantha Maiden was at Gillard’s party in Melbourne. She writes in The Oz:

“‘This is a bad night for the Labor Party,’’ one of the faceless men, Labor powerbroker Mark Arbib, declared at 9pm. And the mood inside what was meant to have been a victory party for Australia’s popularly elected female prime minister reflected it.”

Time for some Labor reflection. “Let the bloodbath begin. While the election result is still up in the air last night, there was no doubt whatsoever that the Labor Party was poised for an intense bout of internal conflict,” argues Matthew Franklin in The Oz.

“Tonight is a disastrous night for the Labor Party and Julia Gillard personally,” declares Patricia Karvelas in The Oz.

Michelle Grattan, one of the few journalists who has been raising the likelihood of a hung parliament for weeks, says Labor absolutely buggered up the opportunities given to them in ’07. She writes in The Age:

“It raises big questions about the coup against Kevin Rudd, and Julia Gillard’s decision to seize the leadership. It will lead to much bloodletting within the ALP. There will be a backlash within the party against the coup makers. Many will think that the leadership change was counterproductive, and also that Ms Gillard, having got the leadership, went to the election too early…

…To what extent the deposing of Kevin Rudd has counted against Labor, especially in Queensland, is hard to measure. But it has almost certainly been much more important than expected initially. Labor underestimated the extent to which people would remain uneasy or hostile at the brutal treatment of a prime minister, especially when it seemed to be masterminded by faceless figures. And it overestimated the vote-pulling power of Julia Gillard.”

All that running about in coastal Queensland was for a reason. “In the end, Queensland did matter,” writes Dennis Atkins in the Courier-Mail. “The bloodbath in New South Wales turned its focus north and it became a juggernaut.”

It was a rough day for ALP supporters in Kevin Rudd’s home state. “Anger over Kevin Rudd’s dumping as PM and the unpopularity of Anna Bligh’s state Labor government resulted in the ALP being savaged in Queensland, suffering a swing of nearly 6 per cent on their two-party preferred vote,” reports Simon Benson in the Daily Telegraph.

Don’t forget that other marginal hot spot, Western Sydney: “Voters in western Sydney have pummelled Labor for neglecting them, leaving senior party figures squabbling over who was to blame for its crumbling heartland support,” write Linda Silmalis and Jonathon Moran in the Daily Telegraph. “A swathe of previously safe ALP electorates across the west suffered anti-Labor swings as high as 15 per cent, resulting in the likely loss of two seats with two more hanging in the balance last night.”

David Penberthy in the Herald Sun blames those ‘faceless men’ of the Labor party:

“…there is now a sub-species of politician inducing a superior level of public disgust.

That person is the faceless factional hack, the backroom boy who has never held a significant position on the front bench and often never had to face the rigours of holding a Lower House seat.

Instead they skulk in the shadows of the Senate, plying their king-making craft in the darker places of politics, safe in the knowledge they will never have to go out knocking on voters’ doors.

Regardless of what happens at this election, now is a bad time to be a faceless factional hack.”

The inability to plug the leaks is what brought the Gillard campaign down, argues Shaun Carney in The Age: “The fact was that some well-placed individuals within the ALP were dedicated to destroying the government. This was systematic, clear-eyed political treachery, deployed at the most decisive point: during a federal election campaign.”

Peter Brent of Mumble doesn’t buy into the ‘this happened because Rudd was knocked off’ diagnosis. As he writes in The Oz:

“A load of hooey… The logic behind the campaign was preposterous. Someone or something was taken out the back and shot at the beginning of week 3 indicates a penny dropped somewhere.

Gone was the values, smiles, asylum seekers and immigration. They shifted to economics and became competitive again.”

Speaking of ex-party leaders… “Malcolm Turnbull strode into Eastern Suburbs Rugby Union Club as if it were his kingdom,” reports Alicia Wood in the SMH. “The Liberal faithful cheered and clapped him — and that was before the news he was enjoying a 10 per cent swing.”

This campaign was the antithesis of Kevin07, say Jessica Mahar and Heath Aston in the SMH: “Howard’s battlers returned to the Coalition fold last night…”

But this isn’t a win for the Coalition either, notes Paul Colgan at The Punch: “The Prime Minister quoted Bill Clinton’s line about the people having spoken, but it’s going to take a bit of time to figure out what they’ve said. I’m not so sure. On the results as they stand tonight there seems a clear message that Australians have opted not to give either of the major parties a mandate to govern in their own right.”

Regardless of the end result, yesterday was a huge day for the Australian Greens. It grabbed its first ever Lower House MP with Adam Bandt winning Melbourne and are likely to hold the balance of power in the Senate.

Leader Bob Brown was “treated more like a rock star than a politician” last night, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The Greens may not have won a Senate seat in NSW, but they gained several elsewhere, reports Mark Davis in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“The Australian Electoral Commission had counted a small share of the Senate vote last night, but it was certain the Greens would win a seat in Tasmania. Early Senate counting also gave the Greens a good chance of picking up seats in Victoria and South Australia…The shape of the Senate will be critical to the new government’s ability to pass legislation.”

The word “greenslide” was banded about a lot last night. “This result has fundamentally changed the political landscape in Australia and given the Greens a new level of authority,” writes Patricia Karvelas in The Oz.

But don’t expect much to happen, regardless of who becomes PM. “Effective government is going to be difficult whoever wins, and perhaps more so for the Coalition. Not only will the Prime Minister have to govern with the support of Greens and/or independents, but will also face a Senate with the Greens holding the balance of power,” notes Andrew Bolt at the Herald Sun.

At least we’ve learnt something in this election, writes Gretel Killeen in The Age: “Next election, let’s make a pact not to respond to relentless polls and public wish-lists because rather than encourage us to follow the leaders, such distractions actually demand that our leaders follow us.”

Three years is a long time to be stranded in political purgatory.