LONDON — After a bitter, bruising and unusually fragmented six-week election campaign, British voters began to vote Thursday knowing just one thing with near certainty: Nobody is going to win.
Or, at least, polls suggest that no one will win in the way elections are usually decided in British politics, with one party claiming a majority in Parliament and a clear mandate to run the country.
Instead, Thursday’s results could set off a mad scramble for power come Friday morning, as parties joust for position with the public, cobble together alliances with sworn enemies and seek to exploit ambiguities in a set of procedures for determining who governs Britain that could be put to the test as never before.
At the end of it all, either Conservative incumbent David Cameron or Labor challenger Ed Miliband will emerge as prime minister, with Britain’s economic fortunes, place in the European Union and future as a global power all riding on that outcome.But if the polls are accurate, neither man faces an easy path to 10 Downing Street, and either could end up in charge of a fractious and unstable government that is undermined by claims of illegitimacy. If the voters’ verdict is particularly murky, there could even be another election before the year is out, leading to months of domestic political turmoil at a time when Washington is growing exasperated with its top ally for its increasingly inward focus.