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Post-election timeline: If there's a hung parliament

By Margaret Ryan
BBC News (http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/shared/img/999999.gif)

If no party wins an overall majority on election night, what happens next? Does Gordon Brown pack up and leave No 10 if there are more Tory MPs than Labour MPs? Here's a guide to how things would play out if there is a hung parliament.

WHAT HAPPENS IF ONE PARTY WINS A MAJORITY

It should become clear by early morning on Friday 7 May whether any party has won a majority of MPs in the new Parliament. If that party were to be the Conservatives Gordon Brown would be expected to concede in a phone call to David Cameron, travel to the Palace to resign and move out of Number 10. Mr Cameron would travel to the Palace where the Queen would invite him to form a government, he would then head to Downing Street and get straight down to work on Friday afternoon as the UK Prime Minister.

WHAT HAPPENS ON FRIDAY 7 MAY IF NO ONE WINS

There are many different scenarios and possible results and few hard and fast rules as to what is going to happen if no single party has enough MPs - 326 - to ensure they can win votes even if all other MPs in Parliament vote against them. But the view of constitutional experts, and past precedents is that if this is the case Gordon Brown, as the incumbent prime minister, will have the right to stay on and try to form an administration. This is even if the Conservatives have the most seats. He does not have to go until it is obvious that he does not command the confidence of Parliament - which would mean being defeated on the Queen's Speech vote, or, if he survived that, a subsequent no confidence motion in the Commons. But exactly how events would unfold can only be speculation at this stage, says Dr Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society's parliament and government programme.

WEEKS OF HORSE TRADING TO FOLLOW?

There is no formal deadline for when the government must be formed, but the key moment will be the Queen's Speech on 25 May. The run-up to this is likely to see a round of negotiations between the parties to see who can command confidence in the House of Commons. "I don't think we can conceivably go from 6 May to 25 May with people having no idea of what is going to happen," says Ms Fox. Instead she believes it would be clear within days if there is a possibility of a deal between parties. "That will determine the direction of government," she says. But the finer details of policy might be worked out later. A party without an absolute majority can stay in power by forging an alliance with another party to create a coalition government. Or it may form a minority government with no formal agreements with other parties, and instead try to form majorities in favour…

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