Britons decide in closest election race for decades

6th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain voted Thursday in the closest general election for decades with opinion polls showing the opposition Conservatives winning most seats but not enough to form a government.

The three rival leaders of the main parties made last minute pleas to the 45 million electorate before more than 40,000 polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) for the cliffhanger event.

Eve-of-election opinion polls gave David Cameron's Conservatives a clear lead over the Labour Party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg.

But they suggested the Conservatives would not win enough seats in Britain's first-past-the-post system to claim an overall majority in the House of Commons.

That would produce a hung parliament -- where no party has enough seats to form a government alone -- for the first time since 1974, and would spark a scramble for power.

Voting ends at 10:00 pm (2100 GMT) with the first results expected two hours later.

After a frantic final 48 hours of campaigning to win over a substantial number of undecided voters, Brown, Cameron and Clegg issued final appeals late Wednesday for activists to help get the vote out.

Cameron rounded off a gruelling tour on his battlebus that carried him from Scotland to his final rally in Bristol, southwest England, by telling a cheering crowd they had a chance to sweep away Labour after 13 years in power.

"Vote to give this country the hope, the optimism and the change we need. Together we can build a better, stronger country," he said.

Brown ended his campaigning in his native Scotland and issued a last-ditch plea to wavering voters to back Labour as the best party to safeguard the country's fragile recovery from a deep recession.

"At this moment of risk to our economy, at this moment of decision for our country, I ask you to come home to Labour," he urged a crowd in Dumfries.

Clegg, whose surprisingly strong showing has made the election so close, urged voters to back him and seize a "once in a generation opportunity to do things differently".

"If you give us a chance, if you trust us with your vote, I promise I will do everything I can to make things better for good, to deliver the fairer Britain you want," he said.

Clegg's party transformed the poll battle into a three-horse race after his assured performance in Britain's first ever pre-election TV debates.

The Lib Dems won a surge of support on the back of his performance, for a while at least propelling them out of their traditional third position into second position ahead of Labour in many surveys.

Clegg has been cast as a potential kingmaker in the event of a hung parliament -- one of his larger rivals could win power if the Lib Dems decide to support them.

The party's support among the public appeared to be fading in the final stages of the election race, however.

One final poll by ICM for the Guardian newspaper predicted Conservative support had increased slightly to around 36 percent, eight points ahead of Labour, on 28 percent, while the Lib Dems had fallen back to 26 percent.

That would roughly equate to 283 seats for the Tories, 253 for Labour and 81 for the Liberal Democrats.

Britain's press voiced support for its parties of choice in a series of front-page editorials Thursday.

The Conservative-supporting Sun newspaper declared "Our only hope" under a picture of David Cameron.

The Mirror, which backs Labour, highlighted Cameron's privileged background, showing him in a photograph during his days at Oxford University, and urged: "Don't let Cam con you... vote Labour."

© 2010 AFP

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