Sydney: (DNA) – Another candidate for Australia´s governing Liberals was forced to stand down over anti-Muslim comments Friday as the party struggles to fend off charges it harbours right-wing extremists.But the main opposition Labor party, which is comfortably leading in opinion polls ahead of the May 18 general election, also saw one of its own stand down Friday over lewd social media posts.Jessica Whelan became the third Liberal candidate to quit the race in the past three days over racist or homophobic social media posts.
Whelan, running for the lower house of parliament from the island state of Tasmania, initially said the posts, which included references to “filthy Muslims” and called for a referendum to ban Muslim immigration, had been doctored by hackers.
Party leaders supported her as late as Thursday and said police had been called in to investigate the alleged hack.
But after screenshots of additional anti-Islam posts emerged in the Australian press overnight, Whelan withdrew from the race early Friday.
The move came after the Liberals, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, were forced to drop two other candidates in the key state of Victoria on Wednesday after they were found to have posted anti-Islam or homophobic messages on social media.
The incidents provided new ammunition to opposition parties´ charges that the Liberals have become dominated by extremists since party hardliners ousted moderate prime minister Malcolm Turnbull last August, putting the more conservative Morrison in power.
“The Liberals have been forced to dump another one of its extreme right-wing candidates,” trumpeted Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Morrison denied that Whelan´s views reflected a broader far-right agenda for his party.
“Her views were her views and they do not represent the views of the party I lead,” he said.
Labor has also been hit by controversy as both major party campaigns are roiled by social media posts made by their candidates, sometimes years earlier.
One Labor candidate dropped out of the race earlier this week over posts deemed anti-Semitic and Friday another Labor hopeful stepped aside for posting rape jokes and other lewd comments.
Luke Creasey, an openly gay 29-year-old school teacher running for office in Melbourne, posted the comments in 2012 and Shorten defended him Friday morning, saying the candidate regretted the posts made when he was 22.
But with Labor under withering criticism from Liberal officials, Creasey withdrew from the race hours later.
In an increasingly fiery campaign, both parties are learning the value of vetting candidates even in long-shot races where they stand little chance of taking office.