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Tensions in Britain's coalition government ahead of voting system referendum

media British deputy PM Nick Clegg Reuters/Phil Noble

Britain’s coalition government is under strain ahead of Thursday’s referendum on changing the voting system. The vote was part of the deal that led to the formation of a coalition between Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, who are the minority partner.

David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister, favours retaining the existing first-past-the-post system but the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is arguing for a change to the alternative vote (AV) system.

The coalition government was showing strain on Monday when Liberal Democrat Energy Chris Huhne confronted David Cameron and the Chancellor George Osborne in a cabinet meeting over campaign literature which he considered smeared the Liberal Democrat leader.

The Prime Minister said the literature was not his responsibility, but Osborne refused to confirm to Huhne that he did not know about the leaflets.

The Independent newspaper in London published a poll today which put the No campaign ahead by two voters to one amongst those certain to turn out.

Either Cameron or Clegg will lose out in the referendum, and the loser will suffer renewed discontent from elements within his party.

The current electoral system used for general elections in the United Kingdom is first-past-the-post, in which the candidate with the largest number of votes in a seat is elected.
The Alternative Vote (AV) system, which is currently used in Australian general elections, is the other option available in the referendum.
AV means that:

  • Voters are asked to rank their candidates in order of preference;
  • A candidate who receives 50 per cent or more first preference votes is automatically elected;
  • If no candidate achieves 50 per cent, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes reallocated according to the second preferences marked on ballot papers;
  • If these additional votes result in a candidate achieving 50 per cent, he or she is elected;
  • If not, the next candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and that candidate’s other preference votes are reallocated;
  • The process continues until there is a winning candidate.

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