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What you need to know about Britain’s election

Every five years, Britons elect members of Parliament. But after this year’s vote on Thursday, the results of the new government might not be known for days.

It’s a tight race between Prime Minister David Cameron from the Conservatives and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is hoping to be kingmaker (again).

Voters are deciding on 650 seats: 533 in England, 59 in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland. The Guardian has an interactive map of battleground seats.

If one party wins a majority of seats, it gets to form the new government. But if no party gains a majority, which appears to be the case this year, there is a “hung parliament” requiring the negotiating of a coalition government. So even though votes will be tallied by Friday, it might be days or weeks before the government takes shape.

Britain's opposition Labor Party leader Ed Miliband (back to camera), (left-right)  Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage the leader of UKIP participate in a televised debate in London on April 16. Photo by Stefan Rousseau/pool via Reuters

Britain’s opposition Labor Party leader Ed Miliband (back to camera), Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood (left-right), Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage the leader of UKIP participate in a televised debate in London on April 16. Photo by Stefan Rousseau/pool via Reuters

The three main parties are the Conservatives, led by Cameron, who has served as prime minister since 2010; the Labour Party, led by Miliband; and the Liberal Democrats under Deputy Prime Minister Clegg.

But some voters disenfranchised by the big three are migrating to smaller parties, including the right-wing UK Independence Party led by Nigel Farage, the social-democratic Scottish National Party led by Nicola Sturgeon, the Green Party of England and Wales under Natalie Bennett, and Plaid Cymru led by Welsh politician Leanne Wood.

The Scottish edition of Britain's Sun newspaper endorsed Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon (left), while the London edition backed British Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron (right). Photos by Andy Buchanan and Daniel Sorabji/AFP/Getty Images

The Scottish edition of Britain’s Sun newspaper endorsed Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, left, while the London edition backed British Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron right. Photos by Andy Buchanan and Daniel Sorabji/AFP/Getty Images

Even the British media, which appeared split over the main candidates, endorsed some minor contenders, including one newspaper hailing Sturgeon as Princess Leia and the “New Hope.”

Issues on the table include whether Britain should vote to leave or stay in the European Union, end austerity measures and clamp down on immigration. See the BBC’s list of issues and where the parties stand.

No final votes are expected on a new government until after Queen Elizabeth II’s annual speech to Parliament on May 27.

You can follow election developments live on BBC’s blog, the Telegraph and the Guardian.

On Wednesday, the PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan spoke to Dan Balz, senior correspondent for the Washington Post who is in London covering the election, about what’s at stake for the UK and U.S.

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