LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a bid Friday to stay in office after Britain's unresolved election, saying he is prepared to speak to any other party about forming an alliance.
Brown reached out to the centrist Liberal Democrats, saying he backed the third-place party's call for electoral-system changes. In a statement outside 10 Downing Street, Brown said there should be action on reform right away.
"There needs to be immediate legislation on this to begin to restore the public's trust in politics," Brown said.
Labour came second in Thursday's vote, which for the first time since the 1970s produced no outright winner. The Conservatives gained the largest number of seats but fell short of the parliamentary majority needed to govern alone.
The result left Labour and The Conservatives jockeying for the support of smaller parties as jittery financial markets clamored for a quick resolution to the stalemate.
As sitting prime minister, Brown would traditionally be given the first chance to put together a government. His left-of-center Labour Party is seen as a more natural coalition fit with the Liberal Democrats, now thrust into the role of potential kingmaker.
But Clegg said earlier in the day that the party that had gained the most seats and the most votes — the Conservatives — should have "the first right to seek to govern."
"I think it is now for the Conservative Party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest," he said.
Conservative leader David Cameron was expected to make a statement later Friday.
Coalition with the Liberal Democrats may be an insuperable sticking point for the Conservatives. Many of the party's old guard distrust the Liberal Democrats' pro-European leanings and fiercely oppose its call for proportional representation, which would make it hard for any single party to hold power alone — effectively shutting out the Conservatives indefinitely.
Labour is much more amenable to demands for electoral reform, but even a deal with the Liberal Democrats would leave them a few seats short of a majority, meaning they would have to turn to Scottish and Welsh nationalists for further support.
As the pound and the FTSE-100 index fell sharply, pressure mounted for a quick solution.
"A decision would have to be made very quickly," said Victoria Honeyman, a lecturer in politics at the University of Leeds,
She predicted that some sort of statement would have to be made before Monday when the markets reopen.
"There's a limit to how long can that this go on," she said. "The pound will start to crash."
Although Britain has no written constitution, senior civil servants have been preparing furiously to lay out the rules and avoid market-rattling uncertainty in the event of a so-called hung parliament, a result in which no party secures a majority. The last time a British election produced such a result was in 1974.
The Conservatives were ousted by Labour under Tony Blair in 1997 after 18 years in power. Three leaders and three successive election defeats later, the party selected Cameron, a fresh-faced, bicycle-riding graduate of Eton and Oxford who promised to modernize its fusty, right-wing image.
Under Brown, who took over from Blair three years ago, Britain's once high-flying economy, rooted in world-leading financial services, has run into hard times. In addition, at least 1.3 million people have been laid off and tens of thousands have lost their homes in a crushing recession.
Associated Press writers David Stringer, Paisley Dodds, Raphael G. Satter and Danica Kirka also contributed to this report.
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