Timeline after British election Thursday

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Britain is bracing for possibly days of uncertainty following Thursday's election, which could well result in the first hung parliament since 1974.

Here is a timeline of how events could unfold:

-- Thursday May 6

Polling stations close at 2100 GMT.

The three main broadcasters, BBC, ITV and Sky News, will publish a joint exit poll as soon as voting ends and begin calculating how many seats each party is likely to have won.

Results start coming in about 2200 GMT but over 40 percent of the 650 seats in the House of Commons will be declared after 0300 GMT Friday. Given how tight the race is, the picture is unlikely to become clear until Friday morning.

-- Friday May 7

In normal elections, when there is a clear winner, the new prime minister moves into Downing Street immediately. However, with a hung parliament likely, this is the day the negotiations could begin.

If a party wins an absolute majority of seats -- 326 -- its leader is called upon by Queen Elizabeth II to form the government. If the opposition Conservatives win a majority, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour government must immediately resign and hand over power without delay.

If no party wins a majority, Brown's government can stay on until the first meeting of the new parliament to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons. It should resign if it becomes clear that it cannot.

The biggest parties -- Labour and David Cameron's Conservatives -- would in this case begin negotiations to see if they can form a government, and the smaller Liberal Democrats could well play the role of kingmaker.

-- Sunday May 9

Lib Dem lawmakers have scheduled a meeting for 1000 GMT to consider their response to the results. Any decision to form an alliance in government would require a three-quarters majority of MPs and the party's federal executive.

-- Tuesday May 18

New lawmakers are sworn into the House of Commons and a speaker elected in ceremonies expected to take several days.

-- Tuesday May 25

State opening of parliament and the Queen's Speech, where the monarch outlines the legislative programme of the new government.

If, amid a hung parliament, Brown remains in power until this point, then the vote on the programme is generally viewed as a motion of confidence. If Brown loses this vote, he is obliged to tender his government's resignation.

© 2010 AFP

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