LONDON - Prime Minister David Cameron's expected new five-year term could prove less stable than the outgoing one and will put Britain on a rocky course to an EU membership referendum, analysts said Friday.
Cameron "will have a very small majority," said John Curtice, a politics professor at Strathclyde University, warning that there could be some "rebellious MPs" in his own Conservative ranks.
Without his former junior coalition partner, the centrist Liberal Democrats, Cameron could find himself under pressure to be more right-wing and pursue a harder line on Europe, experts said.
Matthew D'Ancona, a Guardian newspaper columnist, also said that Cameron would face no easy ride and should not indulge in any "triumphalism".
D'Ancona said a Conservative government would face a "freshly muscular" opposition after sweeping gains by pro-independence Scottish nationalists, who won 56 out of the 59 parliamentary seats in Scotland.
"The global newsflash is that Britain is self-federalising, and Cameron must fast present a plausible response to that ferocious dynamic." A further complication is that Cameron has said he would not remain as prime minister beyond 2020, raising the prospect of a Conservative leadership race in the coming years.
Cameron has identified figures including London Mayor Boris Johnson and finance minister George Osborne as potential successors.
But the past experience of previous prime ministers such as Tony Blair suggests that, having announced his departure date, Cameron could face a leadership challenge sooner than he would have liked.
The prime minister was expected to win a few seats more than the required 326 majority in the 650-seat parliament, which means he could govern alone without support from smaller centre-right parties.
The results were even better than an exit poll after ballots closed on Thursday, which would have meant Cameron having to seek a deal with the Liberal Democrats or Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists.
Experts said the glaring difference from polls that had predicted a much more level race with Labour could be attributed to the phenomenon of "shy" voters who say one thing to pollsters but vote differently.
Tony Travers, a politics professor at the London School of Economics (LSE), said one reason may have been "shy answering" - the same trend that produced a surprise Conservative victory in a 1992 election.
The reason for their timidity could be not wanting to admit to supporting a party whose austerity measures have polarised views in Britain.
EU referendum on the way
A Cameron-led government would mean Britain presses ahead with holding an in-or-out referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017, as he had vowed.
Cameron has promised to renegotiate London's relationship with Brussels and then go to the electorate, saying he wants Britain to remain in a reformed EU.
Sara B. Hobolt, a European politics professor at the LSE, told AFP that Cameron had "antagonised" EU colleagues in the past but would now have to strike deals.
"Cameron will very quickly have to come to Brussels and negotiate a settlement," she said.
"Some European leaders will relish seeing Cameron make the case for the EU because they feel it is a case he has never made.
"He certainly has the potential for alliances." While other European countries have reacted to the financial crisis by turning to radical leftist parties, Britain seems to have rejected even a moderate centre-left alternative.
"The British people have, in the end, have decided to go for caution," Travers told AFP.
"That begs a big question for the left in Britain - what do they have to do, especially after what happened in 2008, to be credible and come up with an alternative opposition?"