Hung parliament: What happens next?

From BBC News:

No party has been able to secure an outright majority in the House of Commons and there will now be a frantic period of negotiation to decide the shape of the next government.

The situation is described as a hung parliament, with no single party having enough MPs – 326 – to win parliamentary votes without the support of members of other parties.

Which party is in a position to form the next government will become clear in the following hours or days. Read on for an explanation of the options or see our election outcomes decision tree.

WHICH PARTY CAN TRY TO FORM THE GOVERNMENT?

Although the Conservatives have won the most seats, the largest party does not automatically have the right to try to form an administration.

As the incumbent prime minister, that right is Gordon Brown’s. Indeed, it is his duty to stay in office until it becomes clear which party or combination of parties can command the most support in the new parliament.

“We must always have a government, and until a new government can be formed the present government carries on,” explains Professor Robert Hazell, from the Institute for Government.

A similar situation arose in 1974, when Conservative Edward Heath stayed in power for four days after the election trying to put together a coalition even though Labour had more seats.