Britain heads for hung Parliament in cliffhanger election

Posted by on May 7th, 2010 and filed under International, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

London, May 7 (DPA) Britain could be set for a change of government following a general election Thursday in which the Conservatives emerged as the biggest party, according to exit polls.

Figures announced as polling stations closed late Thursday predicted a hung Parliament, in which neither of Britain’s two main parties would gain an overall majority.

However, the ruling Labour Party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown immediately made clear that it hoped to hold on to power by wooing the smaller Liberal Democratic Party for an alliance to keep the Conservatives out of power.

The exit polls, based on surveys of 18,000 voters as they emerged from polling stations, showed a disappointing outcome for the Liberal Democrats, whose leader Nick Clegg had been declared the undisputed star of the four-week election campaign.

Exit polls have not proved entirely accurate in the past, commentators pointed out Thursday. Full results will be known Friday.

The exit polls gave the Conservatives, led by David Cameron 307 seats, 19 short of an outright majority. The Labour Party would win 255 seats, compared with 356 in 2005, and the Liberals were given 59 seats, remaining behind expectations.

The result, if confirmed, could leave Cameron seeking to lead a minority government or asking the Liberal Democrats and other smaller parties for support.

As results are being counted through the night, and if Labour does better than the exit polls suggest, a coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats could be possible.

Under the unwritten rules of Britain’s constitution, the sitting prime minister has the first option to ask Queen Elizabeth II to form a government.

However, convention also states that the party with the most seats has the ‘moral’ right to ask to form a government.

Leading Labour figures immediately made clear that the party was in no mood to concede defeat.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, the party’s chief strategist, wooed the Liberals for an alliance to ‘keep the Conservatives out.’

Mandelson said that electoral reform in Britain, from the current first-past-the-post system to proportional representation, was ‘overdue.’

A change in the voting system, which has in the past benefited the two main parties, has been at the heart of the campaign.

Brown had made securing the fragile economic recovery the main plank of his bid for a fourth consecutive Labour term. But critics are accusing him of being responsible for Britain’s massive budget deficit of 163 billion pounds ($242 billion).

In a stark reminder of the problems facing a new government, British papers printed a warning from the European Commission that Britain’s deficit, expected to reach 12 percent of gross domestic product in 2011, could come to exceed that of Greece.

Markets have shown signs of nervousness ahead of the elections, amid predictions of an inconclusive outcome that could lead to weeks of horse-trading over the formation of a new government.

A string of opinion polls for national newspapers were unanimous Thursday in placing the opposition Conservatives, led by David Cameron, in the lead by a comfortable margin.

However, under the vagaries of Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, opinion poll popularity ratings say little about the actual number of seats won in the 649 constituencies across the country.

Polling day was overshadowed by the crash of a light aircraft carrying Nigel Farage, a candidate for the anti-European United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

The 46-year-old former leader of UKIP, who is also a member of the European Parliament, escaped the crash of the two-seater aircraft with minor head injuries, a party spokesman said.

The accident was believed to have been caused by an election banner the plane was towing, urging a UKIP vote, becoming entangled with the aircraft.

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