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How Britain's 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.