British coalition faces test at the polls

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British Prime Minister David Cameron's government was facing its first electoral test Thursday in a by-election that could prove telling for his junior coalition partners.

The polls opened in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency outside Manchester in northwest England, at 7:00am (0700 GMT). They are set to close at 10:00pm (2200 GMT), with the results likely to come early Friday.

It is the first time parliamentary voters have been able to cast their verdict on the coalition between Cameron's Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats of Deputy PM Nick Clegg.

Labour beat the Lib Dems to the seat by just 103 votes in the May 2010 general election, with the Conservatives trailing in third place.

But the winner, former immigration minister Phil Woolas, was found to have campaigned on untrue statements about his Liberal rival and lost a legal challenge.

He was stripped of the seat by an election court in November, triggering the by-election, and is not a candidate this time around.

Victory for the opposition Labour Party could be seen as a negative public verdict on the Lib Dems' role in the Conservative-led coalition and would come despite claims that Cameron has held back Tory campaigning to help the Liberals out.

The result will not have a significant impact on the coalition's strength, as the government has a working majority of 84.

Of the 650 seats in parliament, the Consevatives hold 305, the Lib Dems 57 and Labour 253.

There are 10 candidates for the Oldham East and Saddleworth seat.

© 2011 AFP

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