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How Britain's electoral system works

Britain goes to the polls on Thursday for elections in which David Cameron's opposition Conservatives hope to win for the first time since 1992. Here is a summary of how the British electoral system works.

world Updated: May 03, 2010 11:18 IST

Britain goes to the polls on Thursday for elections in which David Cameron's opposition Conservatives hope to win for the first time since 1992.

Here is a summary of how the British electoral system works.
- Britain's prime minister can announce a general election at any time during their term of office, after first asking the monarch to dissolve parliament.

- The country does not have fixed-term parliaments but elections must be held at least every five years.

- Britain operates a first-past-the-post voting system for general elections in which England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are divided up into 650 constituencies.

- The constituencies are local areas of roughly 70,000 voters, each represented by one MP (member of parliament) who sits in the House of Commons.

- Every person in that constituency can cast one vote for who they want to be their MP. Voters do not directly elect the prime minister.

- The party with an overall majority in the House of Commons forms a government, and the leader of that party becomes prime minister.

- As well as being leaders of the Labour and Conservative parties respectively, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Cameron are both also constituency MPs.

- If no party has an overall majority in the House of Commons, there will be a hung parliament -- an extremely rare event in Britain which has not happened since 1974. Polls suggest this could be a possible outcome of the 2010 vote.

- This could lead to a minority or coalition government.

- However, the precedents for this lasting long-term are not promising -- in 1974, two elections were held within nine months to resolve the situation.