Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has maintained his hold on power, but with the country's first minority government in a generation.

In the closest federal election in years, it was the Liberal party's fourth consecutive win at the polls.

Mr Martin will now have to govern with the help of the small New Democratic Party, which may demand changes to the electoral system as the price for its support.

But even with NDP backing, Martin will still fall one seat short of the 155 needed to defeat a censure vote in the 308 seat House of Commons.

Many analysts are predicting a new election within months.

In the final standings, the Liberals had 135 seats, the opposition Conservatives 99, the Bloc 54, and the NDP 19. One unaffiliated candidate also won a seat.