Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland parties divided on electoral reform

People outside Parliament

Plans to change the voting system for Westminster elections and to have fewer MPs are being debated in Parliament.

The move is part of a Bill that helped form the Coalition government last May.

But political parties in Northern Ireland are divided over whether change is necessary.

The DUP opposes the plans. Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists said they would examine the proposals, the SDLP and Alliance Party back the reform.

The proposals mean the current 'first past the post' system would be replaced by the alternative vote system

In AV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. But Northern Ireland could lose up to three parliamentary seats as a result of boundary changes.

The DUP believe local representation at Westminster should not be reduced. Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP, said such change was unnecessary.

'Dolly mixture' government

"If it is not broken why fix it?" he said.

"I think we will find, in the future, if we go down the road of AV that, far from getting a fair system, we are just going to get a 'dolly mixture' form of government and I don't think that is what people actually want."

Alliance MP Naomi Long said there were strong arguments for changing the voting system.

"I think the big advantage of the introduction of AV for Westminster elections is it removes this tendency to drive elections in the direction for example of unionist and nationalist pacts.

"People know they have this second vote which will also count if their first choice person is not elected. I think that is hugely important."

Sinn Fein said they were in favour of switching electoral systems but wanted to see the detail before they back change. The Ulster Unionists said they, too, wanted to examine the proposals.

Image caption Naomi Long, Alliance Party, said there were strong arguments for change

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said the AV system was not ideal but it was "a step in the right direction".

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg unveiled the plans in July.

In a statement which included plans for fixed-term parliaments, he said UK democracy was "fractured", with some votes counting more than others.

Mr Clegg confirmed the government planned to introduce legislation for five-year fixed term parliaments and to hold a referendum next May on changing the Westminster voting system from first-past-the-post to the AV.

If plans get through Parliament, it would mean the next general election would be held on 7 May 2015 and the number of MPs would be reduced by 50 to 600.

The Boundary Commission would be asked to redraw the constituency map, so each has roughly the same number of voters, by the end of 2013 - allowing new constituencies to be used in the 2015 general election.

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