LONDON: Polling stations opened in Britain today for a referendum on changing the electoral system after a vitriolic campaign that has put the ruling coalition under strain.
Opinion polls indicate Britons will opt to keep the first past the post system, in which the candidate with the most votes wins, and reject a switch to the alternative vote (AV) in which voters rank candidates by preference.
Prime Minister David Cameron has led his centre-right Conservative party in opposing the change, while his deputy Nick Clegg of the centrist Liberal Democrats, is a strong supporter of the “Yes” camp.
Polling began at 0600 GMT and will end at 2100 GMT, but a result is not expected until late tomorrow.
The nationwide referendum is taking place alongside elections for the devolved national assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, plus for local authorities in England and Northern Ireland.
It is the first electoral test of the coalition government since a general election a year ago this week.
Clegg’s Lib Dems, which finished the third-biggest party in the election, made holding a referendum on AV a condition of joining the Conservatives in an unlikely government of political rivals.
But Clegg has accused the “No” camp of “lies” and Lib Dem energy minister Chris Huhne sparked headlines after accusing them of an alarmist campaign with tactics he likened to those of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.
The stakes are especially high for the Lib Dems, who have long campaigned for a change in the first past the post system which penalises smaller parties such as themselves.