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UK election campaign kicks off

The UK general election campaign has officially begun. With no clear frontrunner, the contest is predicted to be the most tightly fought in decades.

The British parliament was formally dissolved on Monday signalling the official start of the country's five-week election campaign, which will see incumbent Conservative David Cameron (pictured above leaving Downing Street for Buckingham Palace) fight Labour's Ed Miliband in what is expected to be the most unpredictable leadership race in decades.

The fractured electoral landscape means that minor parties, the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Greens and euro-skeptics like the far-right UKIP could hold the balance of power. The last general election in 2010 was similarly fraught, resulting in a coalition government of Cameron's Conservatives and the center-left Liberal Democrats.

In a ritual steeped in tradition, Cameron travelled from 10 Downing Street to Buckingham Palace on Monday for an audience with Queen Elizabeth II to ask her to call the next parliament for May 27.

Early polls put opposition Labour at 36 percent and the Conservatives at 32 percent. The two leading candidates were scheduled to hold their first rallies later on Monday both focusing on business and the economy.

Cameron warned voters on Monday that they faced "a stark choice" between economic competence and chaos. He has said that Labour would hit voters with a "tax bombshell," something it vehemently denies.

Ed Miliband charged in turn that Cameron's somewhat combative stance towards Europe poses a "clear and present danger" to the British economy.

Outright majority uncertain

Publicly, both parties have expressed confidence that they will secure an outright win and that speculation of possible coalitions is completely unnecessary. Privately, however, things seem less certain.

One Labour lawmaker who spoke to news agency Reuters on the condition of anonymity said, "It's tough to call, but I think the Conservatives will just about emerge as the largest party… But they won't win an outright majority and their government might not last, meaning that before long we might be faced with a second election."

High-profile American hires

Both major parties have hired former strategists for US President Barack Obama to give their campaigns an edge. Miliband has hired David Axelrod, the brain behind the famous "Yes We Can!" slogan from 2008.

Cameron has secured the services of Jim Messina, who led Obama's successful re-election campaign in 2012. UKIP party leader Nigel Farage blamed the "most negative, nasty and personal" campaign he had ever seen on the influence of the American advisors.

Publicly, both parties have expressed confidence that they will secure an outright win and that speculation of possible coalitions is completely unfounded.

es/lw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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