The countdown began on Monday to the UK general election due to be held on May 7.
The poll is being described as the most closely fought election in decades.
Parliament has been officially dissolved and Prime Minister David Cameron was driven to Buckingham Palace for a traditional audience with Queen Elizabeth.
Fierce battle for votes
Current polls suggest the ruling Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are neck and neck.
A latest Populus poll showed the number of seats each party is likely to win in the 650-member lower house of parliament.
The incumbent government is a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
At the last election, many people thought Labour and the Liberal Democrats were the natural parties to join together in coalition.
However, the Lib Dems, led by Nick Clegg, surprised even their own supporters when they decided to form a government with the Conservatives. Clegg became the Deputy Prime Minister.
The polling company ComRes had this recent opinion poll on the possible post-election scenarios:
New— ComRes (@ComResPolls) March 29, 2015
ITVNews</a> / <a href="https://twitter.com/DailyMailUK">DailyMailUK poll: Conservative/Lib Dem coalition preferred to Labour/SNP coalition #GE2015 pic.twitter.com/pA4qBhr0zu
Most polls give neither the Conservatives nor Labour enough votes to govern alone.
This means the winner will have to try to rule as a minority government, and rely on smaller parties for support on an issue-by-issue basis, or enter into a formal coalition deal.
David Cameron has said he wants another term in office to “finish the job” his coalition began in reforming the economy.
This is the most important election for a generation – with a stark choice between me and Ed Miliband. My video: https://t.co/lt931rWuFS— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) March 30, 2015
The government has imposed controversial tough austerity measures, arguing that the country has to learn to live within its means.
Parliament has been dissolved, but the incumbent government is still in charge until a new one is formed.
According to tradition and political conventions, no new policies can be announced by the incumbent government.
The main issues
Experts agree that these are the main issues at stake in this election: whether austerity is the best policy to tackle the budget deficit; the future of the National Health Service; immigration; and membership of the European Union.
But the two main parties, the Conservatives (Tories) and Labour, led by Ed Miliband, are focusing very much on economic stewardship.
Here’s our message to British businesses today: pic.twitter.com/gMFPRD8VCd— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) March 30, 2015
The Tories claim they are the only ones competent enough to steer the country towards growth; Labour claims austerity has devastated many sectors of society and David Cameron’s stance on Europe is a danger.
The Prime Minister has promised to hold a referendum on European Union membership if he is reelected.
The future of Scotland is also an issue.
Nationalists in Scotland warn that if the UK pulls out of the EU, they would campaign for another independence referendum.
Those supporting independence for Scotland lost in a vote held last year.
Immigration is also high on the list of voter concerns.
The sensitive subject, along with debate about the EU, has been good for the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
The rise in the party’s support is seen as being thanks to its call for a sharp drop in immigration and a quick exit from the EU.
The issues will be battled out in a seven-way leaders’ debate on television on Thursday.
Other debates are also being held leading up to polling day.
Timetable before and after election day
Here is a timetable for the 2015 UK general election, as detailed on the official parliament.uk website:
Thursday 26 March 2015 – Prorogation 2015
The formal end of the parliamentary session is marked by what is known as ‘prorogation’. The 2014-15 session of Parliament was prorogued on Thursday 26 March 2015 until Monday 30 March 2015.
Monday 30 March 2015 – Dissolution
Dissolution of Parliament takes place.
Writs will be issued for elections in the UK’s 650 constituencies.
A proclamation will be made announcing when Parliament will meet after the general election and setting the date of the Queen’s Speech at State Opening.
Thursday 9 April – Candidate nomination papers deadline
Deadline for candidates to deliver nomination papers to (Acting) Returning Officer (4pm) and deadline for candidates to withdraw (4pm).
Monday 20 April – Voter registration deadline 2015
Deadline for receiving applications for registration.
Tuesday 21 April – Deadline for applying for postal vote
Deadline for receiving applications for a new postal vote and postal proxy applications is 5pm on Tuesday 21 April.
Tuesday 28 April – deadline for proxy vote applications
Deadline for applying for a proxy vote (except for emergency proxies) (5pm).
Thursday 7 May 2015 – Polling day
Polling booths open between 7am and 10pm. Counting of votes will begin when the polls close.
Friday 8 May 2015
Monday 18 May 2015 – New Parliament summoned
Parliament returns on a date set by proclamation.
The Father of the House presides over the re-election of / election of a new Speaker of the House of Commons.
Royal Commission confirms the election of the Speaker of the Commons.
MPs start swearing the Oath of Allegiance or making an Affirmation in the Commons, starting with the Speaker, followed by the Father of the House, the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet.
Swearing in continues for two or three further days.
Members of the House of Lords start swearing the Oath of Allegiance or making an Affirmation in the Lords.
Wednesday 27 May 2015 – State Opening and the Queen’s Speech
The Queen’s Speech is delivered at the State Opening of the new Parliament.