LONDON (Reuters) – Britain could be heading for another election within a year after Thursday’s vote failed to produce a clear winner for the first time since 1974.
The centre-right Conserva-tives won most parliamentary seats in Thursday’s election but fell 20 seats short of a majority in the 650-seat parliament.
That left both the Conservatives and the ruling Labour Party trying to entice the smaller opposition Liberal Democrats into a power-sharing deal — a rarity in Britain where the electoral system usually produces a clear winner.
The uncertainty is unwelcome for financial markets — already nervous about the financial turmoil in Greece — which want decisive action to tackle Britain’s budget deficit, forecast to exceed 11 per cent of economic output this year.
While a Conser-vative source was optimistic about prospects for a power-sharing agreement, analysts said the obstacles to the Lib Dems doing a deal with either the Conservatives or Labour were formidable.
They saw a Conser-vative minority government, ruling without a formal power-sharing agreement, as more likely. But chances are it would not be long before Conservative leader David Cameron went back to voters to seek a stronger mandate.
“The odds are it [the next election] will be within the year, unless they can strike some meaningful partnership arrangement,” said Andrew Russell, senior politics lecturer at Manchester University.
Mark Wickham-Jones, political science professor at Bristol University, agreed that another election within a year was almost certain.
He thought the earliest another election could be held would be this autumn. “The elections have to be a reasonable amount of time apart,” he said.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Norman Tebbit also saw a new election before long. “The electors on Thursday essentially said to the party leaders: ‘Look, we don’t think you’ve been open and honest with us … and therefore our verdict is a ‘don’t know’ verdict, and the best thing would be to have another election within 12 months…’“ he told the BBC.
History also points to another election soon.
The last time a British election failed to give any party a majority, in February 1974, then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson led a minority government for a few months before calling another election in October 1974, winning a tiny majority.
Ten years earlier, Wilson narrowly won the 1964 election but went back to the polls two years later, securing a stronger majority.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, whose party fell short of expectations on Thursday, will have many factors weighing on his mind. He could alienate some party members and supporters if he allies with either the Conservatives or Labour.
The crucial issue for him is electoral reform. The Lib Dems have long campaigned for elections by proportional representation, so that their strength in parliament would better reflect how many votes they won.
The Conservatives oppose electoral reform, though Cameron has offered to set up an inquiry into the subject.
Labour, in power since 1997, is more favourably disposed to electoral reform. But if Clegg allies with them, he could be seen as propping up a party that had lost the election and voters could punish the Lib Dems for it at the next election.