Current polling suggests we are on course for a hung parliament, with no individual party likely to attain the 323 seats needed to win votes in the House of Commons (an absolute majority is 326 but Sinn Fein’s MPs are not expected to take their seats).
If no party gets a working majority there will be intense negotiation among the parties over who forms a government.
This could either be a formal coalition, a power-sharing pact or a single-party minority government relying on ad-hoc agreements with smaller parties to push legislation through the Commons.
David Cameron remains the prime minister and has the first chance of trying to form a government, probably involving talks with the Lib Dems and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists.
If the talks do not give Mr Cameron a majority, Cabinet Office guidelines suggest he should resign and recommend to the Queen that an Ed Miliband-led government take over. The sovereign would then invite Mr Miliband to become prime minister.
But under the fixed-term parliaments act, brought in by the coalition, the current prime minister cannot be forced from office unless a majority of MPs vote for the motion “that this house has no confidence in Her Majesty’s government”. How likely is this? It is hard to say, as we are in uncharted constitutional waters.
After a failed no confidence vote, there is a 14-day grace period in which the Conservatives could try to reach a different deal, or as is more likely, Ed Miliband will get the chance to form a government.
The new government must then win the backing of a majority of MPs in a confidence vote. which of these scenarios is most likely as we are in uncharted waters.
If no government can command the confidence of most MPs in the House of Commons, there will be another general election.