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U.K. wants new leadership: Cameron

British Conservative Leader David Cameron said the Labour government has lost its mandate to govern as exit polls suggested the Tories have won the largest number of seats in Britain's national election, but will not gain a majority.

British Conservative Leader David Cameron said the Labour government has lost its mandate to govern as exit polls suggested the Tories have won the largest number of seats in Britain's national election, but will not gain a majority.

But Prime Minister Gordon Brown hinted on Friday that he might try to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats.

A BBC analysis suggested Cameron's party will win 307 House of Commons seats, short of the 326 seats needed for a majority, according to results from a poll done for three broadcast networks.

Conservative Leader David Cameron and his wife Samantha leave after voting near Witney in Oxfordshire in southern England. ((Toby Melville/Reuters))

Two scenarios could arise —  Brown could resign if he feels the results have signalled he has lost his mandate to rule, or he could try to stay on as leader and seek a deal in which smaller parties would support him.

But Cameron said voters have sent a message that they want to move in a different direction.

"I believe it is already clear that the Labour government has lost its mandate to govern our country," Cameron said Friday in Witney, west of London. "Our country wants change. That change is going to require new leadership."

However, Brown, speaking after he won his own district in Scotland, said he would "play [his] part in Britain having a strong, stable and principled government."

He also pledged action on election reform — a key demand of the Liberal Democrats.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said, given the election results, Labour and the Liberal Democrats were "honour bound" to talk to each other.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, also Labour's election chief, noted that in a "hung parliament" — one in which no party has a clear majority — the sitting prime minister is traditionally given the first chance to form a government.

Labour Leader Gordon Brown arrives with his wife Sarah at a polling station in North Queensferry in Fife, Scotland, on Thursday. ((David Moir/Reuters))

Millions of voters headed to polling stations Thursday to cast their ballots in a general election that was widely expected to be the closest race in years.

More than 44 million people had registered to vote in the election, in which voters were asked to pick both MPs for the 650-seat British Parliament and a number of local authorities.

LIVE RESULTS

Watch the BBC's live coverage of the election.

One recent poll suggested that as many as 40 per cent of British voters began the day undecided, and many analysts have suggested that the United Kingdom could be facing its first minority, or "hung," Parliament in 36 years.

Recent polls had suggested Cameron's Conservatives were the favourites to win, but observers were forecasting a tight three-party race after Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg performed well in televised debates.

Clegg, 43, was not widely expected to win the election, but analysts suggested he could hold the balance of power in a minority Parliament.

Canadians living in U.K. head to polls

Commonwealth citizens who are residents of the U.K. were eligible to vote in the election.

There are more than one million Commonwealth citizens — and roughly 51,000 Canadians — living in the U.K., according to the Royal Commonwealth Society.

Lindsay Maclean, a Canadian studying to be a lawyer in London, told CBC News that she was voting for the Liberal Democrats, saying the televised debates provided valuable information and helped guide her decision.

Rebecca Anne Sheppard, a Canadian studying in the U.K., said she was "surprised but also very excited" when she got a ballot card in the mail and found out she was eligible to vote.

"Since then, I have been following the British election race and enjoyed learning about how the U.K. is run and picking up on similarities between British and Canadian politics," she said.

"I just cast my vote in the U.K. election, and look forward to seeing the results."

Britain's tabloids pulled the trigger in Thursday's race with the Daily Mirror running a picture of Cameron along with the words, "Prime Minister? Really?" The Sun, meanwhile, superimposed Cameron's face onto U.S. President Barack Obama's famous colour poster that read, "Hope."

Final push for votes

Brown, 59, touted his experience managing the economy throughout the campaign, but he struggled to recover after he was caught on tape referring to a voter as a "bigoted woman."

The incumbent leader made his final campaign speech in his native Scotland on Wednesday, urging supporters to return a Labour government that has been in power for 13 years.

Cameron, 43, continued his push for the Conservatives in the final days before the election, telling the BBC that he slept on his bus as he shuttled between campaign stops, saying he is going "all out" to win.

Clegg urged voters to vote for the Liberal Democrats, saying his party could deliver "real change, real hope, real fairness."

The United Kingdom hasn't had a minority government since 1974, when Prime Minister Edward Heath's Conservatives got fewer seats than Labour. Heath tried to form a coalition with the Liberals, but couldn't pull it together.

Heath resigned and the Queen gave Labour Leader Harold Wilson the chance to govern. Wilson's government lasted for about six months, until he called another election, which his party won.

 

With files from The Associated Press

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