By Matt Siegel

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia votes in a dead-heat general election on Saturday, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warning of economic chaos if his gamble on an early poll backfires and leaves him without the outright majority he needs to enact major reforms.

The leader of Australia's conservative Liberal Party-led coalition prompted the election by dissolving both houses of parliament in May, blaming intransigent independents in the upper house Senate for blocking his agenda.

Turnbull, acknowledging that the contest was "really close", on Friday urged voters not to make a protest vote.


"This is a time to treat your vote as though that is the single vote that will determine the next government," he told reporters in Sydney.

Turnbull argued that minor parties, possibly in a coalition with center-left Labor, could not be trusted to manage an economy hampered by the first mining downturn in a century and balance public finances after years of deficits.

Turnbull's coalition is facing a strong challenge from Labor, as well as from independents and minor parties like the Greens which could win enough seats to hold the balance of power in the Senate or force a minority government in the lower house.

A Fairfax/Ipsos poll published on Friday showed Labor and the coalition locked in a dead heat at 50-50, well within the 2.6 percent margin of error for the survey of 1,377 respondents taken between June 26-29.

The Murdoch-owned Galaxy polling agency showed a similar outcome, with the government faring slightly better on 51-49 on a first party-preferred basis after the distribution of preference votes from minor parties to the two main contenders.

Turnbull's own grip on power appeared tenuous, with the Fairfax poll showing 27 percent of voters intended to vote for a party other than the coalition or Labor.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, whose party is fielding almost 50 candidates, could also emerge with influence. So, too, could far-right parties, including Pauline Hanson's One Nation, which have campaigned on anti-immigration, anti-Muslim agendas.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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