With national elections scheduled for Thursday, political commentators in the United Kingdom are in a tizzy over the prospect of the first hung Parliament — in which no party has a clear majority — in 36 years.
"The very term 'hung parliament' is calculated to deter. Like 'hung jury,' it suggests crippling indecision," historian Timothy Garton Ash said recently in an article in the Guardian.
"It forces parties to compromise. Because you have to sit down and negotiate every single vote, minority governments lend themselves to consultation and consensus-building," political observer Delia Lloyd said in Politics Daily.
Polls show Prime Minister Gordon Brown, leader of the Labor Party, trailing Conservative Party leader David Cameron, with Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg making a strong push for second place. If no one can claim the majority of votes for seats in the lower House of Commons, two or more parties would be forced to form a coalition under Britain's win-take-all parliamentary system.
The last time that occurred was 1974, when Labor Party leader Harold Wilson formed a coalition government that lasted eight months. Wilson called for a second election that year, in which he won the outright majority.
"Like Wilson's government in 1974, any minority government in a hung Parliament would be bound to call another election months later," Dominic Sandbrook said in the Conservative-leaning Daily Mail. "That could mean postponing tough decisions on spending cuts, and might even mean gambling with the health of the economy to win short-term popularity."
Mr. Cameron and his party colleagues have been warning voters of the economic consequences of a hung Parliament.
Kenneth Clarke, the Conservative Party's business secretary, described the last hung Parliament as a "fiasco."
"The bond markets won't wait for all the discussions and horse trading. Sterling will wobble," Mr. Clarke said during a news conference last month.
George Osborne, the Conservative shadow chancellor of the exchequer, said, "People need to start focusing on the economic consequences of a hung Parliament."
Mr. Clegg disagrees.
During the second televised debate among the three candidates, he urged voters not to believe "all these ludicrous scare stories about markets and political Armageddon if [a hung Parliament] is what happens."
In his Guardian article, Mr. Ash said "a hung parliament is actually a stronger parliament, since the executive is more dependent on the goodwill of the legislature. Properly arranged, this produces not weak government but limited government, something Conservatives have traditionally favored."