British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Wednesday offered sweeping voting reforms but the Liberal Democrat leader admitted they may never come to fruition because of differences with his Conservative coalition partners.
The two-party coalition government, formed after the May 6 parliamentary election failed to produce an outright winner, has promised to give voters the chance to change Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system.
On offer would be a switch to an "alternative vote" method, under which members of parliament would need at least 50 percent of the vote in their constituency to get elected.
The existing system, which tends to favour a two-party contest and a single party government, only requires candidates to win more votes than any other single opponent and has become skewed because of population movements.
The Conservative Party, which won the most seats in the election, agreed in its coalition deal with the Lib Dems to a referendum on voting reform, but it is likely to urge voters to reject the new system.
"(Conservative Prime Minister) David Cameron and I are very relaxed about the fact we may be arguing different cases in that referendum," Clegg said.
The Liberal Democrats won nearly a quarter of the vote in this month's election but took less than 10 percent of the seats in parliament.
"My position is clear: the current voting system, first past the post, is a major block to lasting political change," said Clegg.
Britain has little experience of coalition governments -- this is the first since the end of World War Two -- and while the Conservatives and Lib Dems have promised to work together in the national interest for a whole term, the test will come when parliament has to vote on key legislation.
A lack of support on areas such as the economy and political reform could force a vote of no confidence in the two-party coalition and trigger another election.
BILL OF RIGHTS
Another area of contention is likely to be the possible creation of a British bill of rights to supercede European laws protecting human rights.
Rights activists fear a eurosceptic Conservative government would erode certain freedoms rather than expand them but Clegg said the new bill would build on the European blueprint, though he said he would have to be "pragmatic" in dealing with his senior coalition partners.
The coalition will also introduce fixed-term parliaments and replace the archaic and somewhat exclusive upper house of parliament -- the House of Lords -- with a chamber of representatives elected by proportional representation.
"I'm talking about the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great reforms of the 19th century," Clegg said.
The Lib Dem leader said a new voting system could be in place before the next election which, following the introduction of fixed terms, would fall on May 7, 2015. Under the existing rules, the prime minister picks the date of parliamentary elections.
ReutersLast Mod: 19 Mayıs 2010, 20:26