Territorians have woken up to the prospect of a potential minority government and the return of a viable opposition party after vote counting was suspended on Saturday night.

Key points:

  • The Labor Party still has a chance of forming government in its own right
  • The CLP leader has declared her party “was back” after an improved 2020 showing
  • The electorate widely dismissed the newly formed Territory Alliance party

The Labor Party is tipped to win a second term in office, while the Country Liberal Party, once the Northern Territory’s commanding political force, has regained the confidence of voters in some of the seats it lost at the 2016 election.

The voting results so far show a Territory electorate politically divided by its geography, with Labor tipped to win all Darwin inner-city and northern suburbs seats and the CLP tipped to pick up seats in rural Darwin, Central Australia, Katherine and Palmerston.

When counting finished on Saturday night, the ABC predicted Labor, which won 18 seats at the 2016 election, was likely to win 11 seats, two short of the 13 needed to form a majority government, with up to seven seats still in doubt across the Northern Territory.

Labor leader Michael Gunner, who looks set to return to the role of chief minister, told supporters on election night he was “very confident Labor would form the next government of the Northern Territory” and said the party was “not done winning seats yet”.

Vote counting is expected to resume at 10:00am today with the seats of Arnhem, Araluen, Barkly, Brennan, Braitling, Daly, Katherine and Namatjira hanging in the balance.

With 60.7 per cent of the vote counted, Labor is projected to win 11 seats and to form a majority would require wins in two of either Port Darwin, Daly, Fong Lim, Barkly, Arnhem or Namatjira, which are all in play for the party.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner is wearing a blue suit and a red tie and smiling as he approaches supporters.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner has been returned by voters in the seat of Fannie Bay(ABC News: Michael Donnelly)

If Labor cannot form government in its own right, it may need the support of at least one of two independents who have been voted into Parliament — the returning Member for Mulka in Arnhem Land Yingiya Guyula and former speaker Kezia Purick.

A composite image of independent MLAs Kezia Purick and Yingiya Mark Guyula.

Kezia Purick (left) and Yingiya Mark Guyula (right) have retained their seats as independent MLAs.(ABC News)

Independent candidate for Arnhem Ian Gumbula, who is currently ahead after preferences in the seat with 47.4 per cent of the vote counted, could also join the balance-of-power independents if he upsets the Labor incumbent and Minister for Education and Aboriginal Affairs Selena Uibo.

Both Yinguya Guyula and Ian Gumbula, who have supported one another’s election campaigns and pledged to work together on Indigenous community justice initiatives, could present a united front at the bargaining table if Labor cannot reach the magic number of 13 seats.

The Government may also be forced to negotiate with Ms Purick, the former speaker who resigned from the role in June following the Northern Territory ICAC’s finding she had engaged in corrupt conduct.

Ms Purick has denied any wrongdoing and despite the adverse finding is set to comfortably retain her rural Darwin seat of Goyder.

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Michael Gunner says he is very confident Labor can form government

The Northern Territory last fell under a minority government back in 2009 when the resignation of Alison Anderson from the then Labor government saw the balance of power fall into former independent MLA Gerry Wood’s hands.

With the Labor Party struggling to hold on to a majority and the CLP regaining traction in Palmerston and the bush, a newly formed Labor government will face a strengthened opposition over its next term.

The CLP was wiped out at the 2016 election, winning only two seats — a result that left a rare power imbalance in Parliament.

But this election the CLP party has clawed back respectability in the electorate and is tipped to win, by ABC projections, up to six seats.

CLP Leader Lia Finocchiaro declared “the CLP is back” on Saturday night despite the party’s election loss.

An wide image of Lia Finocchiaro speaking at a lecturn in the evening to supporters

Lia Finocchiaro says the election result marks the return of the CLP.(ABC News: Michael Park)

Ms Finocchiaro said her party’s campaign, which was defined by attacks on the Gunner Government’s record on the economy and crime, had reconnected the CLP with its voter base.

“We have rebuilt and we have strengthened our resolve, because the Territory needs us,” Ms Finocchiaro said.

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CLP leader Lia Finocchiaro has not conceded defeat in the election

“It needs the Country Liberal Party to be that strong conservative voice for people right across the Northern Territory.”

The election also saw new party Territory Alliance fail in its bid to enter the Northern Territory’s political mainstream, with Robyn Lambley in Araluen the only one of the party’s three sitting members with a chance to retain their seat.

The result was an emphatic rejection of party leader and former CLP chief minister Terry Mills, who was trounced in the seat of Blain where he will finish last.

Territory Alliance was tipped to splinter the conservative vote, but offered a mix of policies, including a progressive anti-fracking platform, which voters largely baulked at.