LONDON – Britain's general election has ended with no party winning an outright majority, bringing the second so-called hung Parliament in the last three elections.
Here are a few questions over what it means and its implications for the country.
QUESTION: WHAT IS A HUNG PARLIAMENT?
Answer: It's an unusual situation in which no political party wins more than half of the 650 seats in the House of Commons — 326 is the ostensible mark for a majority, but since the seven Sinn Fein MPs in Northern Ireland aren't expected to take up their seats in the London chamber, the threshold is more like 323. Without a majority, the government cannot be assured of passing legislation and often has to rely on the support of other parties.
Q: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? WHO FORMS THE GOVERNMENT?
A: Prime Minister Theresa May has gone to Queen Elizabeth II to get permission to form a government with the help of the smaller Democratic Unionist Party. She didn't specify how her Conservative Party would "work together" with the Northern-Ireland-based party. As the leader of the largest single party in the House of Commons, May got the first chance to put together a government and present a formal program, known as the Queen's Speech. Instead of a formal coalition, May could seek to govern through a so-called "confidence and supply" arrangement with the DUP, in which the Northern Irish party agrees to support the minority Conservative government on vital matters, such as the budget, in return for concessions.
Q: WHAT DOES THE DUP POTENTIALLY PROVIDE?
A: Votes. With all but one seat counted, the DUP won 10 seats in the House of Commons and the Conservatives 318 — enough to form a working majority, albeit a very small one. While the parties are closely aligned on some issues, they differ on matters as pensions and the details of Britain's exit from the European Union. May will likely have to make compromises to win the DUP's backing.
Q: WHAT HAPPENS IF THE PRIME MINISTER CAN'T FORM A GOVERNMENT?
A: If May fails to get a deal with the DUP that will allow her to govern, then the queen, following advice, could ask the main opposition Labour Party to try to form a government. Given the election arithmetic, Labour would struggle to get the numbers to form a coalition government. Based on current seat projections, Labour and its potential allies fall short of the 326 required to form a majority. However, Labour could govern as a minority government, too, even though it came second in the election in terms of seats, should other parties give it the leeway in key votes.
Q: WHAT HAPPENS IF NO PARTY IS ABLE TO FORM A GOVERNMENT?
A: New elections will be called.
Q: HOW COMMON ARE HUNG PARLIAMENTS?
A: There have been six hung Parliaments since 1900. No party won a majority in elections in 1909, 1929, 1974 and 2010.
In 2010, the Conservatives formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, the first formal coalition since Winston Churchill's government during World War II. In 1974, a minority Labour government was in charge for eight months because the Conservatives were willing to abstain on key votes. In the other four instances minority governments were able to survive as a result of agreements with other parties.