After many decades of power going back and forth between the Labour and Conservative parties, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition that took power after the 2010 election was seen as a fluke—but up to a dozen parties have a shot at being in government after today's election, which analysts say is the strangest—and closest—in memory. Confusion and coalition-building could continue for days or weeks after the results are in, and the only certainty seems to be that neither Labour nor the Conservatives will be able to win a majority of Parliament's 650 seats and form a government alone. Some key players and factors:
- The Conservative Party. Polls show David Cameron's party in a dead heat with Ed Miliband's Labour, Reuters reports. Cameron has tried to portray the party as the only option for stability and continued economic recovery—and promised a referendum on staying in the European Union if it wins.
- The Labour Party. Miliband's party, which was drummed out of power in 2010, has been campaigning on a better deal for workers and higher taxes for the rich, the New York Times reports, and like the Conservatives, is expected to have to find smaller parties for coalition partners even if it gets the most votes.
- Liberal Democrats. Party leader Nick Clegg—Cameron's deputy prime minister under the coalition agreement—may end up playing kingmaker once again, but voters have not viewed his party's role in the coalition kindly: The party is expected to win only around half the seats it did in 2010 and even Clegg's own seat may fall to a Labour rival.
- Scotland. The Scots voted against independence in September, but in the wake of the referendum, huge numbers of Scottish voters deserted Labour for the Scottish National Party, which is expected to win the third-highest number of seats in today's vote. Labour may have to secure the backing of the left-leaning SNP to form a government, but Cameron has signaled that he will consider such an alliance with the Scottish nationalists illegitimate, reports the Guardian.
- The UK Independence Party. This anti-immigration, anti-European Union party is polling in third, according to the AP, but will only win a few seats at most under the UK's "first past the post" electoral system. Still, even a handful of seats can make a big difference when parties try to build coalitions, so UKIP could play a key role—as could the Green Party, Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru, and the patchwork of parties that represent Northern Ireland.
- Sandwiches. The Sun, Britain's biggest-selling paper, chose a cover photo yesterday of Miliband awkwardly eating a bacon sandwich and urged readers to "Save Our Bacon" by keeping him out of power. In solidarity with the Labour leader, supporters have shared photos of themselves eating messily with the hashtag #JeSuisEd, the Guardian reports.
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