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General elections in the UK

When Parliament is dissolved every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant and a general election is held. Each constituency in the UK elects one MP to a seat in the House of Commons. The political party that wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons usually forms the Government.

General elections are held at least every five years although not all Parliaments run for the whole five year period. After the 2010 general election, the coalition government introduced a bill currently before Parliament which would set fixed term parliaments of five years. If the bill becomes law, the next general election will be held on May 7, 2015, with subsequent elections held every five years on the first Thursday of May. MPs are elected from a choice of candidates by a simple majority (“first-past-the-post”) system in which each person casts one vote. The candidate with the most votes then becomes the MP for that constituency. Candidates may be from a political party registered with the Electoral Commission (an independent body, accountable directly to the UK Parliament, that regulates elections in the UK, promotes voter awareness and works to build confidence in the electoral process) or they may stand as an “Independent” rather than represent a registered party. Any eligible person[1] can become a candidate in a British general election whether they are a member of a political party or not. Although any eligible person can stand, in order to have a realistic chance of success a candidate needs to represent one of the 3 main British political parties or a nationalist or unionist party in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The elections are preceded by election campaigning which lasts for about 3 weeks with large-scale press, radio and TV coverage. Most voting takes place in polling stations (usually on a Thursday). Polling stations are usually open from 7am to 10pm on polling day. Having verified and marked off the voter on the list of electors, the presiding officer or poll clerk issues the ballot paper. At the close of poll, the slot at the top of the ballot boxes are sealed by the presiding officer/poll clerk, before being transported by the presiding officer to the central counting location. Anyone eligible to vote can apply for a postal vote. Candidates eligibility: people wishing to stand as an MP must be over 18 years of age, and a British citizen, or citizen of a Commonwealth country or the Republic of Ireland.


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