UK set to reject new voting system

Early polls suggest British voters would reject changing their parliamentary election system in which the candidate with the most votes wins the seat, regardless of whether they get a majority.

Early polls suggest British voters would reject changing their parliamentary election system in which the candidate with the most votes wins the seat, regardless of whether they get a majority.

The Liberal Democrats had supported the Alternate Vote system, where voters rank candidates in order of preference. The winner is the first candidate to secure a majority, either in the first round of counting or in later rounds by picking up votes as lower-ranked candidates are eliminated.

In other voting, the Scottish National Party won a majority of seats in Scotland's parliament and promised Friday to hold a vote on independence, while the Liberal Democrats suffered an enormous defeat in Britain, losing more than 500 local seats.

Voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland elected regional legislatures Thursday, and voters across Britain also chose hundreds of local council seats.

The Scottish National Party became the first party since Scotland's regional government was formed in 1999 to win a majority of the Scottish Parliament's 129 seats. Final results showed it had won 69 seats, while Labour had 37, the Conservatives 15 and other parties eight.

Voters apparently approved of how the SNP has led a coalition government for the past four years and also backed programs to preserve free university tuition and to give the elderly free personal care.

In Britain's local elections, votes were still being counted, so the Liberal Democrats' crushing loss could grow even worse. The debacle for the junior partner in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government sparked fresh calls for the resignation of party leader Nick Clegg, who is also Cameron's deputy.

The Liberal Democrats lost control of six local councils including Sheffield, Clegg's own town.

"We have taken a real knock last night. But we need to get up, dust ourselves down and move on," said Clegg.

The Conservatives gained about 80 council seats, while Labour gained more than 570. Cameron, who marked his first year in office on Friday, said his party had "fought a strong campaign explaining why we took difficult decisions to sort out the mess we inherited from Labour."

Inflation has been surging in Britain, despite sluggish growth and harsh spending cuts that are slashing government jobs and hiking university tuition fees.

Despite its worst showing in 80 years in Scotland, the Labour Party just missed a majority in the Welsh Assembly, winning 30 of the 60 seats.

Elsewhere, votes were being counted Friday to determine whether Northern Ireland is led by a British Protestant as usual or by an Irish Catholic for the first time.

Early returns showed strong support for the two dominant forces in Northern Ireland politics: the Protestants of the Democratic Unionists and the Catholics of Sinn Fein. The two parties have spent the past four years in a surprisingly stable power-sharing government that developed from Northern Ireland's U.S.-brokered 1998 peace accord.