Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Sunday called for a federal election on May 21, with campaigning expected to focus on economic and security issues.
"We are dealing with a world that is less stable than at any other time since the Second World War," Morrison told reporters in Canberra, pledging to keep people safe by continuing "the biggest rebuilding of our defense and security forces."
Morrison also said while the economy has "many moving parts," there are "many opportunities there to be seized from the strong position we've put ourselves in as a country, as we emerge strong from this (coronavirus) pandemic. Now is not the time to risk that," warning against a change in government.
The decision to dissolve parliament comes as Morrison and his rival, the opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese, had unofficially campaigned by discussing policies and meeting supporters across the country in the past weeks.
Morrison's conservative Liberal-National party coalition, which has been in power since 2013, is seeking to enter its fourth consecutive three-year term. Recent opinion polls have shown Labor consistently in the lead on a two-party preferred basis.
The latest survey by the conservative-leaning Newspoll places Labor 8 percentage points ahead of the coalition at 54-46. However, there remains little difference between Morrison and Albanese in terms of the preferred candidate to take the top job.
In response to the prime minister kicking off the official election campaign, Albanese hit back at Morrison's claim that "people are tired of politics as we go into this election."
"I think that Australians want a government that does its job," Albanese told reporters in Sydney.
"If I have the honor of serving as your prime minister, I can promise you this -- I will lead with integrity, and I will treat you with respect. I will restore faith in our political system by getting rid of the waste and rorts and establishing a strong anti-corruption commission," he said.
Morrison, a vocal social conservative and Christian, is the first Australian prime minister to serve a full term since John Howard was voted out in 2007, following a series of disputes within the parties over leadership that saw six prime ministers in less than a decade.
Albanese, though a veteran politician and former deputy prime minister, remains largely unknown to voters. A recent poll by Ogilvy PR reveals that more than half of voters feel they know little about him.
A series of corruption scandals among the ranks of the ruling coalition party have marred public trust in the government in recent years, while Morrison's mishandling of natural disasters and the pandemic have seen his popularity plunge.
"I think that for voters, there's quite a high level of anger towards the government," said Lindy Edwards, a senior lecturer in international and political studies at the University of New South Wales.
"The prime minister being deeply unpopular, and a lot of people just not being that convinced by Albanese or not knowing who he is, I think that the combination of those things, I think we'll probably see a relatively low vote for both major parties," Edwards said.
Australians will head to the polls for the first time in three years to vote for the House of Representatives' 151 seats and roughly half of the Senate's 76 seats.
Labor was last in power in 2013, before Kevin Rudd lost the election to then-Liberal opposition leader Tony Abbott.