UK poll too close to call

LONDON - Opinion polls yesterday indicated Britain remained on course for a parliament with no outright majority, raising the rare prospect of a minority or coalition government after Thursday's election.

LONDON - Opinion polls yesterday indicated Britain remained on course for a parliament with no outright majority, raising the rare prospect of a minority or coalition government after Thursday's election.

Leader of the centre-right Conservatives David Cameron had claimed to have the momentum after a strong performance in last week's leaders' television debate.

But, surveys yesterday indicated his party's lead had been pegged back to five percentage points - as much as half their weekend advantage - and suggested either the Conservatives or Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party could still win.

The quirks of Britain's electoral system, where seats are allocated purely by constituency results, and not in proportion to the overall share of the vote, mean that Labour could come third in the popular vote but still remain the largest bloc.

The race has been blown wide open by a strong showing from the Liberal Democrats, traditionally Britain's third party, whose own telegenic leader, Nick Clegg, has challenged Cameron's claim to be the candidate of change.

If the polls were replicated nationwide on Thursday, it would result in a "hung parliament" where no single party has an overall majority, a result last seen in Britain in 1974.

What happens after that is a matter of huge speculation.

The uncertainty could unsettle markets who want swift action to tackle a budget deficit running at over 11percent of gross domestic product, although the currency and foreign exchange markets have so far taken the growing prospect of a hung parliament in their stride.

Yesterday's ICM-Guardian poll had the Conservatives on 33percent, five points ahead of both Labour and the Lib Dems, with the Conservatives the biggest party in parliament.

The daily YouGov-Sun poll put the Conservatives on 34percent, the Lib Dems on 29percent and Labour on 28percent, this time with Labour the biggest party. - Reuters

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