- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2005

LONDON — The campaigning has been under way for months — informal but vicious — and soon it’s likely to be official.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, pressing hard for a third term, is expected to announce this week that national elections will be held in early May.

Political observers have long assumed that Mr. Blair would call the vote for May 5, when local elections already are planned around Britain.

To do so, he must go to Buckingham Palace to ask Queen Elizabeth II to dissolve Parliament, which he is expected to do as early as tomorrow.

Under Britain’s system, the prime minister can choose an election date any time within five years of the last vote and announce its timing about a month in advance.

Mr. Blair has said he intends to serve a full third term if his Labor Party is re-elected but would not seek a fourth.

Despite doubts over the Iraq war that he supported and public weariness with Mr. Blair after eight years in power, he still dominates British politics with a huge majority in Parliament and he is expected to lead his party to an unprecedented third term.

The opposition Conservative Party, long in disarray, has gained momentum in recent months and could give the prime minister a stiff challenge.

Mr. Blair’s second term, which began with an electoral rout of the Conservatives in 2001, has been dominated by angry debate over Iraq. Mr. Blair led Britain to war over intense domestic opposition.

Conservative leader Michael Howard has sought to capitalize on doubts about Mr. Blair’s handling of Iraq, but the impact of his criticism has been limited by his party’s enthusiastic support for the war.

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