Power-sharing options for British parties

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Herewith the main power-sharing options possible following inconclusive British elections last Thursday, and developments so far this week.

The Conservatives came first in the May 6 polls, winning 306 seats, followed by Labour on 258 and the Liberal Democrats on 57.

To govern reliably a party -- or group of parties -- needs at least 326 seats in the 650-member House of Commons.

Holding the balance of power, the Lib Dems are negotiating with both the Conservatives and Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party.


This was the option pursued first. Even though Britain's idiosyncratic poll rules give the incumbent premier the right to try first to form a government, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg opted for talks with David Cameron's Conservatives.

The two parties claimed to be making progress after four days of talks, but the first sign of a hitch appeared Monday when the Lib Dems said they wanted "clarification" on issues including their key demand on electoral reform.

A Tory-Lib Dem tie-up would have the advantage of stability, with a combined majority of 363 seats. The exact type of pact being considered was unclear until Monday when the Tories said it would be a formal coalition, if agreed.

The Tories also offered a major concession to the Lib Dems Monday, pledging a referendum on electoral reform shortly after Brown announced he will stand down as Labour leader, opening the way for Lib Dem-Labour talks.

Under a coalition deal the Lib Dems could expect ministerial posts, possibly for Clegg and his respected finance spokesman Vince Cable.

2) LABOUR-LIB DEM coalition, with minor parties

Formal talks between the Lib Dems and Labour began late Monday after Brown's dramatic announcement. The two parties are closer ideologically and Brown has vowed electoral reform without a referendum to meet the Lib Dem demand.

Brown's departure was seen as a key condition for a deal.

But the two parties' combined total of 315 seats remains 11 short of an absolute majority, forcing them to consider what Brown has called a "progressive alliance" with other smaller parties.

Critics say such a coalition -- including possibly the Scottish National Party, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists and the Welsh Plaid Cymru -- would be inherently unstable and may well collapse, forcing new elections.

Brown says he will stand down by September. Foreign Secretary David Miliband is frontrunner to succeed him, while others cited include Home Secretary Alan Johnson, climate change secretary Ed Miliband and schools minister Ed Balls.

3) LABOUR-LIB DEM minority government

An option evoked Monday by former Lib Dem chief Paddy Ashdown, to avoid the risk of Labour and the Lib Dems being held to ransom by smaller nationalist parties demanding spending and budget benefits in return for their support.

Without an absolute majority, it would constantly struggle to push legislation through parliament.

4) CONSERVATIVE minority government

Still an option if Lib Dem talks with both the Conservatives and Labour collapse. Tory leader Cameron would seek to govern with ad hoc support from other parties, including Northern Ireland deputies.

With 20 seats short of a majority, it too would be vulnerable to defeat, even if it managed to secure initial guarantees to support its legislative plans when newly elected lawmakers gather for the re-opening of parliament.

Party leaders are keen to forge a deal before parliament resumes next Tuesday, and at the latest by the following Tuesday, May 25, when the new government's legislative programme is due to be unveiled in the Queen's Speech.

Rejection in a vote on the Queen's Speech would amount to a vote of no-confidence, effectively bringing down the new government days after it would have taken office.

© 2010 AFP

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