Second election looms as British parties haggle: experts

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Britain faces prolonged political limbo after voting for its first hung parliament since 1974 as parties haggled Friday over alliances while many experts say a new election will be needed.

The country also faces economic uncertainty after the knife-edge result as sterling fell amid talk of a new general election within months.

"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.

David Cameron's opposition Conservatives won the most seats on 292 but are short of a clear majority of 326 -- the dreaded hung parliament with noone in control.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as the incumbent head of government, has the first shot at forming a new administration, but his ruling Labour party only has 251 seats.

Sources say informal talks between the parties involved have begun, while Queen Elizabeth II is monitoring events and four top civil servants have been assigned to each party for negotiations.

Professor Steve Schifferes of London's City University said a hung parliament was the "worst possible outcome for the markets and for business, which above all hate uncertainty".

"The timescale that the markets are demanding for resolving this political crisis is a matter of days, while politicians may be thinking of weeks," he added.

There are two main possibilities for resolving the deadlock. The first is that Brown's centre-left Labour teams up with the centrist Liberal Democrats, and the second is that Cameron steps in to do an unlikely deal with Nick Clegg's party.

Even if Labour were to team up with the Liberal Democrats, who have 52 seats, they would be well short of the magic 326 figure, meaning they may also need to bring on board smaller parties such as Scottish and Welsh nationalists.

But a deal based on a large number of parties with conflicting interests could prove highly unstable and shake markets.

"The problem is then you end up with a coalition of losers," Honeyman said, adding: "The idea of 'Why are we having to pay to make sure Gordon Brown can stay in power?' is a very good one".

That raises the previously unlikely possibility of the centre-right Conservatives, or Tories, teaming up with the Liberal Democrats.

The two parties are poles apart on many issues -- the Lib Dems' totemic policy is electoral reform which the Tories reject, while Clegg's party is pro-European, compared to the Conservatives' pronounced euroscepticism.

Any deal would more likely be on a vote-by-vote basis, rather than as a firm and binding coalition. Influential Conservative London mayor Boris Johnson raised the possibility of a "meccano-type solution".

The situation is further complicated by the fact that any alliance involving the Lib Dems has to be first approved by their lawmakers, ruling executive and potentially full membership in a complex system known as the "triple lock".

Elections expert David Butler of Nuffield College Oxford told the BBC that there would likely be another election very soon "because I don't see the compromises that are necessary for a coalition."

The last time Britain elected a hung parliament, in February 1974, it resulted in a second election in October of that year, eight months later.

"I think the 1974 analogy is a very strong one and I think if Cameron does carry the next government, a minority government, he has a very good chance of winning a clear majority in a quick election afterwards," he added.

© 2010 AFP

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