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UK referendum presents hurdle for coalition

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UK referendum presents hurdle for coalition


A referendum to reform the way members of parliament are elected in the UK is threatening to shake the coalition government.

The May 5 ballot has divided politicians, not only in the coalition, but also within the parties. Prime Minister David Cameron campaigned against it alongside former Labour Home Secretary John Reid. Labour Party leader Ed Miliband joined forces with Liberal Democrat member of government Vince Cable to advocate the constitutional change.

The Alternative Vote (AV) electoral system gives voters a chance to rate the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate reaches the threshold of 50 percent, the ballots of the candidate with fewest votes will be redistributed among the rest based on second choices until one contender passes the 50 percent mark. Under the UK’s current electoral system, the candidate with the most outright votes wins the seat.

The ‘yes to AV’ camp says AV is fairer and makes politicians work harder for their seats. The ‘no’ camp argues that AV is more complicated to run and its result will be a parliament of second choices.

The campaign is becoming more bitter by the day.

“This is politics of the gutter,” said senior Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, in an attack against the ‘no’ camp’s tactics. Mr. Huhne was challenging Conservative MP George Eustice over the ‘no’ campaign’s use of what he called “outright lies,” saying there is no doubt that it is damaging for the coalition.

“I’m frankly shocked that our coalition partners can stoop to a level of campaigning we have not seen in this country before,” he said.

Mr. Eustice, whose Conservative party leads the coalition, said the two parties disagreed on AV from the beginning and that should not damage their partnership.

Some of the ‘no to AV’ campaign literature targets the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, bearing titles such as “Say No to President Clegg.” Lord Ashdown, a former Lib Dem leader has called the strategy “deeply and appallingly personal” and urged Cameron to distance himself from it. Cameron says his party’s campaign contained no attacks against one person.

The ‘yes’ campaign says on its first election broadcast that the May 5 referendum will provide a “once in a lifetime chance to change the way MPs get their jobs.”

The ‘no’ camp plays up the complexity of the Alternative Vote system in its broadcast and says “democracy is one person one vote.”

A poll by Guardian/ICM showed that the ‘yes’ camp is falling behind and trails the ‘no’ by 16 points, a stark contrast to their 2-point lead in February.

By Ali Sheikholeslami
London Correspondent

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