After a typical UK election, the leader of the winning party visits the queen to be anointed Britain's new prime minister. But early indications are this general election returned no outright winner, meaning Queen Elizabeth II could have an expanded role.
Your typical UK election usually yields a clear winning party with an outright majority in parliament.
After a heated election campaign, the leader of the winning party congratulates the losers on putting up a good effort, then heads to Buckingham Palace for tea with the queen, who confirms him or her as the new prime minister of Britain.
But this was no typical election. The British polls closed at 10 p.m. local time (5 pm EST), and early exit polls indicate no outright winner.
Instead, it appears, that Britain now has a "hung parliament." The BBC projected 307 seats for the opposition Conservative Party, 19 seats short of a majority, with the Labour Party of incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown dropping to 255 seats. These numbers should be taken with a grain of salt since the final results, not due out for hours, are almost certain to be somewhat different.
But the absence of a clear majority is complicating the usual day after visit with the queen, and may see her role expanded beyond the broadly ceremonial one she generally occupies. She generally just "invites" the clear winner to form a government.
Now, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is likely to drive to the palace with neither a clear mandate govern, nor a clear successor to bow before. On Friday, he could either resign, stating that he does not have the ability to form a majority government, or else advise her that he intends to form a coalition with another party, or parties.
What the Queen does next is now a delicate matter. She theoretically has the power to exercise her own judgment as to who is most likely to be able to cobble together a coalition, and could invited either Mr. Brown or Tory leader David Cameron to do so. But that would be an unusual political intervention in a country whose traditions have left the reigning monarch as the head of state, but whose actions almost always are rubber stamps of the wills of voters and their elected representatives.