LONDON: Britons head to the polls on Thursday for their most unpredictable election in living memory, with fears of weeks of brinksmanship as the two major parties struggle to cobble together workable coalitions.
With no party expected to win a majority and several smaller blocs on the rise, the election could also mark a shift to a type of fragmented politics that is more familiar in other parts of Europe.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, has even warned of another election this year if an unstable minority government takes power.
On the final day of campaigning Wednesday, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his chief Labor rival Ed Miliband embarked on frenetic tours of the country in a scramble for votes.
A Conservative victory could raise the risk of Britain exiting the European Union because it would mean a membership referendum, while some experts warn that a Labor win could spread unease among investors.
The Conservatives and Labor have sharply different views over whether to continue austerity cuts in the world’s fifth-biggest economy, which have slashed the deficit but also led to widespread social pain.
At least one thing is for sure — expected massive gains by Scottish nationalists will transform the British political scene and make the prospect of independence for Scotland a far more likely one.
Polls open at 0600 GMT and close at 2100 GMT, with exit polls published immediately after that and the first results coming in from around midnight.
Vote tallies for the 650 seats will be announced during the night and final results are not expected until Friday afternoon.
Tens of millions of people are registered to vote, and nearly 4,000 candidates are in the running for Westminster.
Ballots will be cast in around 50,000 polling stations dotted around the country, including in unusual places like pubs, caravans and even garages.