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Cameron faces voters after lacklustre campaign
[LONDON] British Prime Minister David Cameron appears to face two thankless alternatives after Thursday's general election - losing his job aged 48, or leading a fractious government until he steps down.
Mr Cameron's Conservatives have been virtually tied in opinion polls with Labour for months, confounding the party's expectations of a late boost in numbers.
Defeat would be a rare failure for a man whose privileged background has led to accusations from critics that he cannot identify with most Britons.
If the tennis and karaoke-loving prime minister does retain power, his next five years in office could be even harder than his last, which were dogged by controversy over austerity cuts to public services.
Bowing to the demands of his party, Mr Cameron has promised a referendum on leaving the EU by 2017 if he wins but would face a struggle to renegotiate Britain's relationship with Brussels beforehand.
To top it off, he has also promised to step down as leader before the next election in 2020 and identified possible successors including London Mayor Boris Johnson, which could spark a leadership race.
RAPID RISE TO THE TOP
The son of a stockbroker, Cameron was educated at the elite Eton College and Oxford University.
On graduating, he worked for the Conservatives as an advisor before a stint in public relations which ended when he was elected to parliament in 2001.
Rising swiftly, he was elected Conservative leader in 2005, aged 39.
Mr Cameron prioritised the "detoxification" of what one of his leading ministers called "the nasty party" by avoiding traditional right-wing issues like immigration and stressing a more liberal agenda.
He posed with husky dogs at the North Pole to highlight his green credentials, while his respect for public services was underlined by the care his disabled son Ivan received from the state-run National Health Service (NHS).
Ivan, who had cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy, died aged six in 2009. Cameron and his wife Samantha have three surviving children.
At the 2010 election, Mr Cameron became Britain's youngest prime minister for 200 years but the Conservatives did not win enough seats to govern alone.
Instead, they had to team up with the centrist Liberal Democrats for Britain's first coalition government since World War II.
At home, the coalition was defined by its unpopular spending cuts, while foreign policy was dominated by wrangling over Britain's role in the EU.
Abroad, following long military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and amid defence cuts, Britain played a smaller role on the world stage.
Nevertheless, it looked like Mr Cameron held most of the trump cards before the election campaign.
The coalition had led Britain out of a double-dip recession and the Conservatives built their campaign around their "long-term economic plan" for recovery.
He was also facing an opponent, Labour's Ed Miliband, whose geeky image jarred with voters.
Some experts attribute the Conservatives' inability to narrow the poll gap in the polls to Mr Cameron's failure to complete the overhaul of the Conservatives' "nasty" image.
That failure could cost Mr Cameron dear.