Chances of a fresh parliamentary election being needed to break the political paralysis in Australia rose on Tuesday after vote counting showed a tie and independents likely to hold the balance of power dithered over their pick.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Labor and Tony Abbott's Conservatives need 76 seats to have an outright majority in the 150-seat parliament, but both are projected to hold 73.
One seat has gone to the Greens and three are held by incumbents who are not aligned to the major parties and have conflicting demands for lending their support for a minority government.
Independent Rob Oakeshott said on Saturday's vote had shown Australians were ready to abandon the right-left divide and embrace a government of national unity.
The putative war cabinet would include Gillard and Abbott as well as Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, the party leaders they replaced.
Neither Gillard nor Abbott responded to what at first glance seemed a preposterous proposal.
"It's a cheeky option," Oakeshott admitted. "I do think here is a moment where we can explore the edges and explore outside the box."
His comments before a first meeting with his two fellow independents highlighted the difficulties of reconciling differences and bargaining as a trio with Labor and then the conservatives.
Gillard, because of incumbency, has the first chance at forming a workable coalition. Abbott, who has also returned to Canberra after the parliamentary election, will get his chance later in the week.
Parliament is not scheduled to sit until October but there is a clamour for a return to the majority government that has prevailed for the last 70 years.
Oakeshott himself recognized that having a bipartisan government was improbable and that a fresh parliamentary election might be the best option.
Oakeshott foresaw bargaining dragging on for some time.
"I think this probably will end up being the dumbed-down version of blue team or red team," he said. "But, you know, at least let's give it a couple of days and maybe a week to look at the options and consider the message from last Saturday."