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A Fractured Mandate

May 8, 2010

They were awake all night counting the ballot papers – the nation hardly slept. To say that the various candidates also were wide awake all night is stating the obvious. And then what did they get – a hung parliament. The Conservatives got the largest number of seats at 306 but are some distance away from the 326 mark. The Labour Party under Gordon Brown did better than expected and managed 258 seats. This after more than 13 years of Labour rule is no mean achievement. It was the Liberal Democrats that fared the worst under Nick Clegg at just 57 seats – down 5 seats from last time. Remarkably, while their vote percentage went up to 23% their number of seats went down. They were second or third in many constituencies and that should be a matter of pride and shows that they have become a third option firmly. They need to translate this support into decisive vote for their agenda. That will be their call in times to come.

Not since 1974 has Britain experienced a hung Parliament. This has come as a shocker for many Brits. They are not used to a situation where the verdict is divided. David Cameron is claiming, as one would expect that the Labour government has lost the mandate and that they should be given the first chance at forming the government. The Labour Party is saying that the party in power should be given the first opportunity to form the government. This controversy as to who should be given the first chance at forming the government in case of a hung Parliament when the ruling party gets fewer seats as compared to the principal opposition party is an issue that remains unclear in the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy.

Gordon Brown has taken a position of business as usual with him firmly ensconced at 10 Downing Street. He has further said that he can understand Nick Clegg wanting to talk to David Cameron first but has added that he is ready to talk to the Liberal Democrats and that their agendas are not totally out of sync with one another. Clearly, it will take some doing from the Conservatives to unseat Gordon Brown.

There are three possible scenarios – the first is that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats come together and form a government. The contentious electoral reforms agenda of the Liberal Democrats will be difficult for the Conservatives to accept. Besides in a poll 92 percent of the Conservatives said they would prefer Cameron to head a minority government rather than have any truck with the Liberal Democrats.

The second option is that the Tories form a minority government. That will be a drag for David Cameron as he will have to keep looking for the approval of the opposition for all issues big and small.

The third is a Labour led government under Gordon Brown with support from the Liberal Democrats. The problem is that even if the two parties come together they will not reach the half way mark. They will need the support of smaller parties. This may seem difficult but is not entirely impossible.

In all of this, while the Liberal Democrats may have come down by 5 seats in these elections, the good news for them is that there can be no government without their support. In that they are king makers this time around and that is a big political advantage for them. It will be foolhardy for them not to be a part of the government. A bit of flexibility is required on the part of both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and if the two parties come together, in numerical terms, they should be able to form a relatively stable government. Being in the government will give them a political advantage and visibility that may help them in future elections.

A hung parliament with a fractured mandate will in all probability lead to another election sooner rather than later. If such a thing happens it is very likely that the people will give the Tories a decisive mandate as happened in the 1974 elections. Tories will not mind going back to the people as they will have a political advantage.

As for the Asian community, their numbers in the Parliament have increased by two from last time and that should be celebrated by them.

The right wing parties like the British National Party still did not manage to win a seat and their leader Nick Griffin was a poor third with just 6000 odd votes. They need to retrospect and come stronger next time around.

The Greens have their first member of parliament and that is a sign of times.

It is clear that there is going to be either a coalition government or a minority government. From the Indian point of view it really does not matter as to who is in power, the Indo-British relations have reached a stage of maturity where there is bound to be a continuity. David Cameron has said that he will have a ‘special relationship’ with India if he comes to power. Britain and India are only going to come closer in the years ahead.

From the international perspective a loose coalition government or a minority government of the Tories does not bode well for the issues at hand. While on such issues as climate change there will be no problem in moving forward, it will be issues such as Iran that may be difficult to handle. A minority government or a coalition government may find it hard to take a tough posture on Iran and were there a need to take some decisive action on the matter, the man in 10 Downing Street may feel constrained. In that this fractured verdict has come as a boon to Ahmedinijad and the Mullah’s that are at the helm of affairs in Tehran. The Middle East peace process may also stutter a bit, for while Washington will move ahead it does look for support from allies such as Britain to take an active part on such delicate issues.

Be as it may, these elections have thrown up possibilities that will require a lot of statesmanship and fortitude on the part of the current leadership. I am sure the few who could not vote and may now be compensated monetarily will make sure they are in the queue first thing in the morning the next time around, which may not be too far away.

Update 12.05.2010: David Cameron has become the Prime Minister of Britain and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats will be the Deputy Prime Minister. This came after long and arduous talks between the Tories and the Lib Dems. It remains to be seen as to how long this government lasts.

There is a feeling however, that David Cameron went soft on the opposition during the campaign and that may have cost the Tories the vital twenty odd seats that they needed for a majority in the Commons. But then this is an era of coalitions and Britain could not have remained untouched.

Update 12.05.2010: David Cameron, the newly elected Prime Minister of United Kingdom has promised to build a new social relationship with India and support New Delhi’s proposal for a seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

In an article, Cameron has written that he is committed to have a special relationship with India as being a key regional player and a force for stability in a troubled part of the world.

As reported, India was the first country David Cameron visited as a Conservative leader in 2006. Source ANI

Though the left leaning Labour and Democrats may seem to be friends of India, it is the Conservatives and the Republicans who have given India her rightful place in world polity. I have a feeling Cameron will fill the void left by George W. Bush as far as India is concerned, and we welcome that vision wholeheartedly.

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