Friday, June 8, 2001, Chandigarh, India





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Blair poised for 2nd term

London, June 7
The United Kingdom today went to polls in a general election expected to give Prime Minister Tony Blair a landslide victory and a historic second term in office.

The only interest in the elections is to see whether the ruling Labour Party will be able to increase its 179-member majority in the 659-member House of Commons it gained in the 1997 elections. Most of the opinion polls indicate that the majority might increase.

An eve-of-poll survey in the Daily Telegraph put Labour on course for 47 per cent, 17 per cent ahead of the main opposition Conservative Party on 30 per cent. Another poll in The Times gave Labour 45 per cent as against 30 to the Conservative Party. Britainís third main party, the Liberal Democrats were shown at 18 per cent in both newspapers.

Polling began in the 45,000 polling stations spread over the UK on a sombre note as usual, despite bright sunshine but picked up considerably during the day. Mr Blair, accompanied by wife Cherie and a son voted at a polling station in the Sedgefield constituency.

Mr Blair had spent the final days of his campaign, urging the Britons to come out and vote.

Conservative party leader William Hague voted in the Richmond constituency with his wife Ffio in tow while Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy had already voted by post. The centre of attention in the elections will be the number of people who turn up to vote, with some opinion polls predicting a turnout lower than 71 per cent registered in the last general election.

While Prime Minister Blair spent most of the day in his Sedgefield constituency in northeast England, the Tory leader William Hague spent his day in Richmond, northern England. Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was in northern scotland.

The three main parties have fielded a record number of Asian and black candidates, recognising the growing influence of these communities, even as Britain is emerging as a multi-cultural country.

Prominent among the candidates with Indian roots are Kieth Vaz, Minister for Europe, who is seeking a re-election from the Leicester East constituency and Piara Khabra from Ealing Southall. Both are Labour candidates.

In the 1997 elections, the Labour party won 43.2 per cent of the votes and secured 417 seats while the Conservatives got 30.7 per cent and Liberal Democrats 16.8 per cent.

While most voters exercised their franchise in schools, church halls and community centres, some people were offered rather unorthodox polling stations ó in a caravan, a supermarket, a chip shop and a living room.

In Pengam Green, Cardiff, a polling booth was installed inside a supermarket while in Wells Road, Bristol, the voters had the facility to buy fish and chips and cast their votes as the booth was situated inside the shop. PTI
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