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Thursday, May 7, 2015, 14:42

Polls open for close British election

By Associated Press
Polls open for close British election
A combination picture shows (top left -right ) Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband; (bottom left -right ) British Prime Minister and leader of the Conservatives David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg, campaigning in the run up to the UK elections. Britain's political leaders launched their last day of campaigning on May 6, 2015 for the most unpredictable election in living memory which could yield no clear winner and weeks of haggling over the next government. (AFP PHOTO)

Polls have opened in Britain's national election, a contest that is expected to produce an ambiguous result, a period of frantic political horse-trading and a bout of national soul-searching.

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives and Ed Miliband's Labour Party are running neck-and-neck, and neither looks able to win a majority of Parliament's 650 seats.

Many voters are turning elsewhere — chiefly to the separatist Scottish National Party, which will dominate north of the border, and the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party.

Polls are open Thursday from 7 am (0600GMT) until 10 pm (2100GMT). Most results are expected within a few hours.

Here are some key terms you should know:

FIRST PAST THE POST

Used to describe the electoral system, in which voters across the country elect local Members of Parliament. The candidate with the highest number of votes in each area wins, even if he or she does not gain a majority of votes cast.

HUNG PARLIAMENT

The probable outcome of Thursday's vote. A hung parliament, the equivalent of a hung jury, is one in which no single party holds a majority of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. In that case, parties will try to forge agreements that will assemble a working majority enabling a government to pass laws.

COALITION GOVERNMENT

Once a rarity in Britain, a government in which two or more political parties divide up ministerial posts, compromise on policies and agree to govern in concert. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition assembled in 2010 was Britain's first since World War II.

MAJORITY/MINORITY GOVERNMENT

A majority government is formed by a party that holds more than half the seats in the House of Commons. Minority government occurs when a party that does not have a majority of seats governs alone, relying on support from smaller parties on a vote-by-vote basis. Britain last had minority governments in the 1970s, and they tended to be short-lived.

NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION

British governments draw their authority from Parliament, and lawmakers can topple a government by passing a motion stating "that this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government." If the government can't win an opposite motion expressing confidence within 14 days, a new election is called.

CONFIDENCE AND SUPPLY AGREEMENT

One or more parties agrees to support the government on votes crucial to its survival: no-confidence motions and spending (or supply) votes.

QUEEN'S SPEECH

An annual speech, read by the monarch at the ceremonial State Opening of Parliament, the Queen's Speech is written by the government and outlines its legislative program. Winning the vote that follows is crucial to the survival of any government. This year's Queen's Speech will be May 27, when either Conservative leader David Cameron or Labour's Ed Miliband will unveil his government's plans.

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