ACT Labor looked likely to be returned for a historic fifth term on Saturday night, in a result that clearly cements Labor as the natural party of Canberra voters.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said Canberra had "voted for light rail" and confirmed he would form government with the Greens' Shane Rattenbury.
"We're not going to know the outcome tonight, but what we do know is that Canberrans have voted for another Labor government," Mr Barr told party members at the Belconnen Labor Club to jubilant chants of "four more years" and "build the tram".
Canberrans had fundamentally rejected a "narrow-minded, conservative" Liberal Party,
"It is impossible now for Canberra to ever go back to being a provincial country town," Mr Barr said.
The outcome, heralded by former chief minister Katy Gallagher as an "extraordinary and outstanding result for Labor", puts paid to any doubt about the future of the light rail network. But Ms Gallagher said it was wrong to interpret Labor's win as all about light rail.
Liberal leader Jeremy Hanson acknowledged that it was unlikely he would form government and said he had called Mr Barr to congratulate him. Former leader, now senator Zed Seselja said Canberra was "a very tough place for the Liberals to win government", and there would be "a significant amount of disappointment" as the party took stock of the loss.
Labor is likely to rely on the Greens for a majority, in a mirror of the make-up of the previous parliament, albeit with many new faces, as the Assembly expands from 17 to 25 members.
It is a significant blow to the Liberals, who went into the election feeling confident, but were hit by a swing against the party of about 3.3 per cent. The Liberals polled 35.6 per cent of the first-preference vote.
Labor's vote held up from the 2012 election, at 39 per cent. The Greens vote was steady on 10.6 per cent.
The first-preference count was mostly complete on Saturday night, but the final make-up of the ACT parliament depends on the distribution of preferences. So far preferences have been distributed (on an interim basis) only for the electronic votes, about one-quarter of the total. Paper votes will be scanned from Monday, with progressive counts during the week.
It is clear Labor and Liberal will have 10 seats each, with the Liberals likely to have an 11th in the southern seat of Brindabella. Labor has 10 seats and is favoured for two more, one in Belconnen and one in Gungahlin. The Greens have one seat. It is a race between the Greens' Caroline Le Couteur and the Liberals in the Woden-Weston seat of Murrumbidgee. The Greens also are an outside chance for the final seat in Belconnen.
On those numbers, a Labor-Green coalition is the expected outcome.
Mr Rattenbury, who retained his seat, said his party remained in the game in two other seats, and would have to wait another week for a final result.
The result was a clear rejection of the backward-looking Liberals, he said.
In Brindabella, the Liberals' Andrew Wall and newcomer former radio host Mark Parton were polling highest, with sitting member Nicole Lawder in third place. Expected to be the Liberals' strongest seat, the party will be disappointed with its result, hit by a swing against it. The loss of former leader Zed Seselja and the high-profile Brendan Smyth is likely to be one reason. Labor's votes were evenly spread, with Joy Burch slightly ahead of her colleagues. The Sex Party polled 7.5 per cent in the seat.
In Yerrabi, there was a swing towards Labor, attributed to the light rail line. Labor's Meegan Fitzharris was close to a quota in her own right, but Labor's sitting member Jayson Hinder might lose his seat. Labor is expected to win three of the five seats.
In Murrumbidgee, Labor's vote was down, attributed to the lack of sitting members in the electorate with the retirement of Simon Corbell. The two new Labor faces were looking likely to be Bec Cody and Chris Steel. Liberal leader Jeremy Hanson is returned, with sitting member Giulia Jones' position unclear, and perhaps depending on whether the Liberals win two or three seats in the electorate.
In Ginninderra, Labor's Chris Bourke, the Assembly's only indigenous member, is in trouble. Labor's votes are evenly spread, but Mr Bourke was trailing, with Labor's Gordon Ramsay and Tara Cheyne in slightly stronger positions. Labor's Yvette Berry polled well above her Labor colleagues. For the Liberals, Vicki Dunne was in top position, with a close tussle for the second seat.
In Yerrabi, Mr Barr was comfortably returned, with the second Labor candidate still unclear.