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Coalition partners clash over electoral reform

LONDON | Britain’s first coalition government in 65 years will last until 2015 despite rising tension between the ruling parties over this week’s referendum on voting reform, Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday.

In a sign that the year-old coalition intends to see out its five-year term, the parties are discussing policies to put forward in the second half of that period, said a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, junior partners to Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives.

Bitter exchanges between the two parties over proposed changes to Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system could cause lasting damage to the coalition, some commentators say.

The center-left Liberal Democrats have championed Thursday’s referendum on a switch to the alternative vote as a chance to make the voting system more favorable to smaller parties, but their larger center-right Conservative partners oppose it.

Mr. Cameron and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg insisted that the coalition, which has imposed sweeping cuts intended to virtually wipe out Britain’s record peacetime budget deficit over four years, would remain intact until 2015.

“We always knew this would be a moment of difficulty for the coalition. … We will demonstrate that it is possible to continue a strong and effective coalition government in the national interest for five years,” Mr. Cameron told the BBC.

Mr. Clegg, the deputy prime minister, told the broadcaster that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would continue to “work together in harness for the national good” for five years, as planned.

From wire dispatches and staff reports