An Election in the UK is Likely This Year, We Just Don't Know When. Here's What to Know

LONDON (AP) -- The United Kingdom is poised to hold its first election in five years in a country battered by a cost-of-living crisis, fallout from the Israel-Hamas conflict and deep divisions over how to deal with migrants and asylum seekers crossing the English Channel from Europe on small inflatable boats.

Here is a look at the upcoming election and the biggest issues at stake.

When is the election in the United Kingdom?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak can call an election at any time up to Dec. 17, with the election taking place 25 working days later. That means the last possible date for the election is Jan. 28, 2025.

The timing of the election will be determined by Sunak's calculation of what date will be most advantageous for the Conservatives. The most likely time for the election is in the autumn, according to the Institute for Government, a London-based think tank. But one can't be sure.

How does voting work in the United Kingdom?

People throughout the United Kingdom will choose all 650 members of the House of Commons for a term of up to five years. The party that commands a majority in the Commons, either alone or in coalition, will form the next government and its leader will be prime minister.

That means the results will determine the political direction of the government, which has been led by the center-right Conservatives for the past 14 years. Opinion polls suggest that Labour is currently in the strongest position.

Who is running in the United Kingdom?

Sunak, a former Treasury chief who has been prime minister since October of 2022, is expected to lead his party into the election. His primary opponent will be Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions in England and leader of the Labour Party since April 2020.

But there are other parties, some of which have strong regional support and could be crucial to forming a coalition government if no one wins an overall majority.

The Scottish National Party, which campaigns for Scottish independence; Liberal Democrats; and Democratic Unionist Party, which seeks to maintain ties between Britain and Northern Ireland, are currently the three largest parties in Parliament after the Conservatives and Labour. Some observers suggest the new Reform Party, formed by Tory rebels, may siphon votes from the Conservatives.

What are the big issues at stake in the United Kingdom?

The economy: Britain has struggled with high inflation and slow economic growth, which have combined to make most people feel poorer. The Conservatives succeeded in meeting their goal of halving inflation, which peaked at 11.1% in October 2022, but the economy slipped into a technical recession in the last six months of 2023, raising questions about the government's economic policies.

Immigration: Thousands of asylum seekers and economic migrants have crossed the English Channel in flimsy inflatable boats in recent years, raising concerns the government has lost control of Britain's borders. The Conservatives' signature policy for stopping the boats is a plan t o deport some of these migrants to Rwanda. Critics say the plan violates international law, is inhumane, and will do nothing to stop people fleeing war, unrest and famine.

Health care: Britain's National Health Service, which provides free health care to everyone, is plagued with long waiting lists for everything from dental care to cancer treatment. Newspapers are filled with stories about seriously ill patients forced to wait hours for an ambulance, then longer still for a hospital bed.

The environment: Sunak has backtracked on a series of environmental commitments, pushing back the deadline for ending the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered passenger vehicles and authorizing new oil drilling in the North Sea. Critics say these are the wrong policies at a time the world is trying to combat climate change.