Conservatives enjoy strong lead in UK vote surprise: exit poll
Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives have won the largest number of seats in Britain's election but fallen short of an outright majority, exit polls indicated Thursday, defying predictions of a neck-and-neck race with Labour.
The centre-right Conservatives were projected to win 316 seats compared to 239 for Ed Miliband's centre-left Labour party, in a possible victory that could put Britain on a collision course with the EU.
The poll issued by Britain's main broadcasters as ballot boxes closed also said that the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) had taken 58 out of 59 seats north of the border, which would be a massive surge in support from the six seats they held in the last parliament.
The Liberal Democrats, junior partners in Cameron's coalition government, slumped to 10 seats from 56 currently, according to the poll.
While the Conservatives may not have the clear majority of 326 seats in the House of Commons, they look to have increased their support from 302 in the outgoing parliament.
"If they are right, it will mean the Conservatives have clearly won," Michael Gove, a key ally of Cameron and chief whip in his government, told the BBC.
But Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman said the results indicated that the Conservatives "have lost the majority for their coalition" with the Liberal Democrats.
Negotiations between the Conservatives, Labour and the smaller parties are expected to start Friday as they bid to build enough support to reach a majority.
- Implications for EU, Scotland -
The outcome of the general election could determine Britain's future in the European Union and whether Scotland remains part of Britain.
Cameron has promised a referendum on EU membership by 2017 if he wins, while the SNP has said it would work with Labour in return for policy concessions.
Scots voted against independence in a referendum last year but the SNP has seen its support surge since and has not ruled out pushing for a fresh referendum.
Party leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Twitter the exit polls should be treated with "HUGE caution". She added: "I'm hoping for a good night but I think 58 seats is unlikely!"
More than 45 million Britons were eligible to vote at polling stations located everywhere from shipping containers to churches, funeral parlours to pubs, a school bus, a lido and a football ground.
Ballot boxes were open from 0600 GMT to 2100 GMT. Most results will emerge overnight but the final tally of seats will not become clear until Friday afternoon.
The Conservatives and Labour have been virtually tied in opinion polls throughout the election campaign, leaving the final outcome highly uncertain.
Under Britain's electoral system, a party needs to be able to command a majority in the 650-seat House of Commons in order to form a government.
National vote share therefore plays no part in the outcome of the election -- it is decided purely on the number of local area seats each party can win.
Strictly speaking, the Conservatives or Labour would need to have 326 seats to have a majority.
In practice, though, this figure is likely to be more like 323 because Irish nationalists Sinn Fein do not take up the seats they win in general elections and the House of Commons speaker does not take part in votes.
- Horse-trading ahead -
If neither the Conservatives nor Labour wins an outright majority, they will have to start negotiations with smaller parties in a bid to attract their support.
It is thought the Conservatives could again team up with the centrist Liberal Democrats, with whom they have been in a coalition government since 2010, and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists.
Labour, meanwhile, could attract support from the SNP led by Nicola Sturgeon.
The SNP have said they would be prepared to work with Labour to keep the Conservatives out of power but Miliband has ruled out a formal deal with them.
The Liberal Democrats say they could also be open to working with Labour.
The negotiations are likely to be complex and experts say they are likely to last for days or even weeks.
The new government, whether led by the Conservatives or Labour, would face its first big test when lawmakers vote on its legislative programme after a traditional speech given by Queen Elizabeth II in parliament on May 27.
© 2015 AFP