British referendum rejects electoral change: initial results

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Britons have overwhelmingly rejected a change in the way they elect their lawmakers, according to early results Friday from a national referendum that threatened to tear the ruling coalition apart.

A big "No" vote would be a double blow for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrat Party, the junior partner in the coalition, which took a battering in local elections held alongside the referendum on Thursday.

The first 23 results from 440 constituencies -- about five percent of the total -- showed that 68.83 percent voted against introducing the alternative vote (AV) system, in which candidates are ranked by preference.

Only 31.17 percent voted in favour of scrapping the current first past the post system in which the candidate with the most ballots wins, although the result was still subject to change.

Pre-election opinion polls had indicated similar figures.

Prime Minister David Cameron had led his centre-right Conservative party in opposing the change while Clegg was a strong supporter of the "Yes" camp for AV, a system which tends to help smaller parties.

The Conservatives only agreed to hold the referendum after Clegg's Lib Dems, normally the third-placed party in elections, made it a condition of joining forces to form a government after a general election one year ago.

At stake is the fundamental question of how Britain elects its lawmakers.

Under AV, voters rank candidates standing in a parliamentary constituency in order of preference, with the lowest-scoring candidate eliminated through a series of rounds and their votes re-allocated to their rivals until one gets over 50 percent.

Cameron and the "No" camp argue however that the current system is simple, fair and effective, in that it allows voters to eject unpopular governments.

© 2011 AFP

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