Australian politics can seem pretty weird from afar, and worse up close. Heres a handy guide to an upcoming election that doesnt involve Donald Trump (yet)

Australia may be rather far away from the rest of the world, but its politicians have an uncanny knack of making international headlines. Whether its the deputy prime minister threatening to put down Johnny Depps dogs, a prime-ministerial body count that rivals Game of Thrones or stealing political slogans from fictional TV shows such as Veep, politics in Australia can seem weird from afar. Or even up close.

Threatening to kill puppies is going to be the tip of the iceberg in this campaign, following prime minister Malcolm Turnbulls decision to dissolve both houses of the Australian parliament for a two-month election campaign with a poll date of 2 July. Expect more madness, more insanity, occasional furry animals and possibly just a little bit of policy. Heres all you need to know about Australias big date.

How do elections work in Australia and whats at stake?

Australia has a parliamentary electoral system with two houses of parliament based in Canberra. (There are also state and local governments, but they have elections at different times.) The lower house is known as the House of Representatives and has 150 MPs. The federal government is formed on the basis of who holds the majority of seats in the lower house, so thats the biggest battleground.

Australia also has an upper house called the Senate, which similar to other parliamentary systems provides a kind of check on the powers of the government, and must also pass legislation before it can be made law.

There has always been a slightly prickly relationship between governments and the Senate because of this. Paul Keating, a former Labor prime minister, famously called it the house of unrepresentative swill. This election is going to be particularly significant because both the Senate and the House of Representatives will be up for grabs, throwing all seats in government wide open.

Australia is also still a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II the head of state. The governor general, Sir Peter Cosgrove, the Queens representative, formally dissolved parliament on Monday. In reality though, Australia governs itself and the prime minister effectively governs the country along with an executive cabinet handpicked from the legislature. Its not a presidential system, so there isnt a separate election to choose the leader; who becomes prime minister is decided by the party that forms government.

There are two major political parties; the Liberal party, which is the conservative party. Its part of a coalition with the Nationals party, which has support in areas of rural Australia.

Then theres the Labor party, which is considered to be the more progressive party, and has its roots in the labour movement in Australia.

The Australian Greens also has growing representation, with one seat in the House of Representatives and 10 in the Senate. There are also a handful of independents in the mix.

The most recent polling data analysed by Guardian Australia says the Coalition government would be more likely to win the election if it was held right now, but Labor is ahead in many recent surveys.

Wasnt there an election only recently?

Well, yes. In 2013, the Liberals returned to power after six years, kicking out a Labor party which got one prime minister (Kevin Rudd) elected, then replaced him in an overnight party coup with Julia Gillard, then changed its mind again and went back to Rudd. The Liberals, not to be outdone, won in 2013 under Tony Abbott, and then kicked him out last year and replaced him with Turnbull in a party coup known colloquially as a spill.

Tony Abbott walks past Julia Gillard during question time in the House of Representatives in 2013. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia has elections to decide the prime minister every three years as a matter of course, which is already more frequent than other countries such as Britain and Canada. But the prime minister has forced this election even earlier. This election in Australia is going to be extremely unusual because its whats known as a double dissolution.

What this means is that both houses of parliament the lower house and the upper house have been completely dissolved. Normally the upper house only has half elections, with senators elected for six-year terms.

Turnbull has taken a gamble to do this, but its one that could pay off extremely well. Over the past three years the government has failed to pass a series of key budget and policy measures, which have been blocked mostly by a small group of independent senators. These senators range from a libertarian who wants to relax Australias internationally praised gun control laws, a former army officer who wants the grand mufti of Australia to wear an ankle monitor, to a car enthusiast who was captured on video mid skirmish in a kangaroo poo fight.

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