Uncertainty reigned on Friday as Britain’s main parties headed for an intense power battle after the general election resulted in a hung Parliament.
The situation in which neither of the two big parties gained enough votes to form a government on its own was confirmed by results from most of the 649 constituencies.
After results in 615 constituencies were counted, the Tories had 290 seats, followed by Labour with 247 and the Liberal Democrats with 51.
The results mean it will be impossible for the Tories to reach the minimum of 326 seats required for an overall majority.
The ruling Labour Party under Prime Minister Gordon Brown has indicated that it would aim to stay on in government with the support of smaller parties.
Speaking after his re-election in his constituency in Scotland, Mr. Brown said it was his duty to secure a strong and stable government in Britain.
“The outcome of this country’s vote is not yet known, but my duty to the country, coming out of this election, is to play my part in Britain having a strong, stable and principled government, able to lead Britain into sustained economic recovery,” he said.
The official result of the election is expected later Friday.
As the wait for clarity continued, Mr. Brown was locked in talks with his closest aides in Downing Street to assess the possibilities of a government pact with smaller parties, including the Liberal Democrats.
But there were clear signs that the process would be drawn out.
The Liberal Democratic Party, led by Nick Clegg, said it would hold a meeting on Saturday to consider whether to enter into an alliance with Labour, or Mr. David Cameron’s Conservatives.
Meanwhile, there were no signs that Queen Elizabeth II, who would have to “invite” the future government leader, was in any hurry to do so.
The monarch, who was staying at the Windsor Castle outside London, was unlikely to become involved until the situation became clear, Constitutional experts said.
It was her view that it was “up to the politicians to get together to produce a solution,” said one expert.
“The monarch is not a referee,” he said, adding that the monarchy would be damaged if her role was seen to be “politicised.” It was already clear that Labour had lost the mandate to govern, Mr. Cameron said early on Friday.
But Peter Mandelson, the Business Secretary and key Labour strategist, insisted that Labour could seek to form a government.
“The rules are that if it’s a hung parliament, it’s not the party with the largest number of seats that has first go — it’s the sitting government,” he said.
However, when asked whether the situation would become less intractable if Mr. Brown resigned and Labour put forward another candidate for the party leadership, he said: “All sorts of things are possible.” The result was a shock for the Liberal Democrats, led by Mr. Clegg, who appeared set to win fewer seats than in the last general election in 2005.
Mr. Clegg, who had been branded the “superstar” of the 2010 election, campaigning for the Liberal Democrats to be given greater weight in Britain’s traditional two-party system, on Friday described the results for his party as disappointing.
“We simply haven’t achieved what we had hoped,” he said.
The key question now is whether the Liberal Democrats, desperate to seize the chance of a lifetime, would back Labour in a Lib-Lab pact.
The Liberals have been campaigning for electoral reform, aimed at replacing the present majority first-past-the-post system with proportional representation.
Several top Labour politicians indicated on Friday that the party would be prepared to hold talks on the issue.
Under the unwritten rules of Britain’s constitution, the sitting Prime Minister has the first option to ask Queen Elizabeth II for the chance to form a government.
However, convention also states that the party with the most seats has the “moral” right to ask to form a government.
Markets showed signs of nervousness early Friday, as shares fell under the dual pressure of the Greek debt crisis and the hung parliament in Britain.