British Conservatives seek power deal after poll deadlock
Opposition Conservatives on Friday sought a "comprehensive" power-sharing deal with the small Liberal Democrat party after a knife-edge election left Britain in political limbo.
Conservative chief David Cameron made the offer after his party won most seats from Thursday's general election, but fell short of the overall majority needed to definitively end 13 years of Labour rule.
"I want to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats. I want us to work together in tackling our country's big and urgent problems," Cameron told a press conference.
"I hope we can reach agreement quickly," he added.
With 638 of the 650 House of Commons seats declared, the Conservatives had 301 lawmakers compared to 255 for Labour, making it impossible for the Conservatives to win the 326 seats they need to govern alone.
Under Britain's election rules, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown has the right to attempt to form a coalition first, but he accepted Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's decision to talk with Cameron first.
Cameron and Clegg would be "entitled to take as much time as they feel necessary," Brown said, while offering to talk to the Lib Dems if they failed.
"Clearly should the discussions between Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg come to nothing then I would of course be prepared to discuss with Mr. Clegg the areas where there may be some measure of agreement between our two parties," he said.
Britain was forced into a hung parliament for the first time since 1974 after the Conservatives finished short of an absolute majority. Cameron still insisted that Brown had lost his mandate to govern.
The pound slumped to a 13-month low against the dollar and London stocks sank on fears the deadlock would hamper the nation's ability to slash sky-high public debt, analysts said.
Until Brown and Cameron's statements, the centre-left prime minister's key allies said Labour, which has ruled since 1997, would try to cling to power through a deal with the centrist Lib Dems.
But Clegg said the Conservatives, as the largest party in the new parliament, had the "first right to seek to govern".
"It seems this morning that it is the Conservative Party that has more votes and more seats though not an absolute majority," he said.
"That is why I think it is now for the Conservative Party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest."
It was the first indication that the Lib Dems would be prepared to strike a deal with the Conservatives.
Despite their potential role as kingmakers, the Liberal Democrats won just 56 seats -- a disastrous showing after they had seen a surge of support in the campaign on the back of Clegg's strong performances in TV debates.
After he retained his seat in Witney, southern England, Cameron tried to grab the momentum by insisting Britain was crying out for "new leadership" after 13 years of Labour.
"What is clear from these results is that the country, our country, wants change. That change is going to require new leadership," he said.
Some commentators said the only solution to the deadlock might be a fresh election.
"Either way there's going to be an election again soon, probably before the end of the year," Victoria Honeyman, a politics professor at Leeds University, told AFP.
"The more we hear of the different permutations of who might work with whom after tonight, the more I feel there is only one certainty: we'll be having another general election before too long," said the Guardian newspaper.
There were several notable political casualties of the election.
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson lost his House of Commons seat after a sex and cash scandal involving him and his wife.
But he will stay on as Northern Ireland's leader due to his seat in the British-ruled province's assembly.
Labour losses included former interior minister Jacqui Smith, who was caught up in an expenses scandal after claiming for porn films for her husband. She lost her seat in Redditch, central England, to the Conservatives.
The polls were marred by protests by voters prevented from casting their ballots in London, Leeds, Sheffield and other cities because they were still queuing at 10:00pm (2100 GMT) when polling stations closed.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw said legal challenges could not be ruled out, while the Electoral Commission watchdog launched an investigation.
© 2010 AFP