Australia's Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser was swept back into power today in a national election that was seem as vindicating his political judgement, boosting his power and ending the political career of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
The margin of Frazer's victory stunned government and opposition alike. With the counting incomplete, Fraser's conservative coalition may have as many as 83 seats to Labor's 36 in the House of Representatives.
Just two weeks ago, after Fraser's treasurer Philip Lynch was forced to resign followed revelations he had been involved in profitable land and property deals, opinion polls showed the Fraser government narrowly behind.
Fraser fought back with a campaign centered on the memory of the economic chaos and record inflation under the Whitlam government when the Labor Party leader was prime minister from 1972 to 1975.
On the eve of the election, opinion polls showed that Fraser had pulled up and was slightly ahead.
But none indicated the dimensions of Fraser's victory or the devastation Australian voters wrought on Gough Whitlam, 61, and his Australian Labor Party.
Labor scored less than 41 per cent of the vote - the lowest in the party's 86 years history. The defeat was so total that Whitlam announced long before counting of votes ceased for the night that he was resigning as leader. His son Tony Whitlam was also defeated in what should heve been a safe Labor seat - almost certainly because of his name.
The scope of Labor's defeat, according to political observers here, is likely to have significant long-term effect on Australian politics.
It will be a long term before another Australian Labor Party leader will attempt Whitlam's combination of intellectual socialism, aggressive personal leadership and dedication to expanding the influence of the national government in every level of economic and social life.
Fraser was expected to continue his current foreign policy including close ties with the United States. And his victory was expected to encourage continued U.S. investments in Australia, among them the projected $3.5 billion joint development of natural gas fields off north-west Australian coast.
The new Labor leader was expected to be William Hayden, a 47-year-old former policeman from the tropical northern state of Queensland, who was Whitlam's treasurer in the last months before Whitlam was fired as prime minister in November 1975 by the queen's representative, Governor General Sir John Kerr.
Hayden's problem after today is three-fold. A man lacking in personal charisma and national recognition, he has to try to rebuild the morale of a party that won a lower vote today than in the election two years ago that put Fraser into power by what was then the biggest landslide in Australian political history.
Hayden also inherits a representation in the national parliament that is little more than a rump party. But most importantly, Hayden will have to do political battle with Prime Minister Fraser from a position of great disadvantage.
Fraser called this election more than 15 months warly and was strongly criticized for it on two grounds - he risked losing his huge majority and he showed a tendency to one man rule by making the decision virtually on his own. In the end, he vindicated his judgement, maintained his enormous majority.
He has also guaranteed his dominance of the Australian government and an intensification over the next three years of his plan to improve Australian's economy by tightening the national belt, and putting the war on inflation ahead of reducing the record high levels of unemployment.
Fraser is the same age as Hayden, 47. A millionaire sheep and cattle farmer who was educated at Oxford, he is now as totally in command of the conservative Liberal Party in Australia as the legendary Sir Robert Menzies was when he came to power in 1959.
Menzies stayed on as prime minister until voluntarily quit 1966.After today's election Fraser may be able to repeat Menzie's performance.
His declaration of victory was bland and brief. He merely thanked the voters "for the confidence they have shown in my government," and said that "The Australian people have shown that confidence because my government has operated as a team."
For the first time a national third force emerged under the leadership of Don Chipp, a former Liberal Party minister who resigned from Fraser's government six months ago in protest against Fraser's domination of the government and his conservative economic policies.
Chipp formed a party called for Australian Democrats and ran himself for one of the five Senate seats in the state of Victoria. He won impressively and will be a senator in the new Parliament. When final figures were posted for the night, Chipp candidates also had a chance of winning Senate seats in three other states.