The UK General Election is being held all across the Queen’s dominion today. British Parliamentary elections are funny. A news editor said online that we might end up with a “well-hung Parliament”. Even in crazy England I’m sure journalists don’t go around measuring who’s the biggest dick (literally). And according to voters, on scale of 1-to-10 (1 being lowest), elections are 1 while “makeup is quite important”.
Today, on 6th May 2010, I voted for the first time in a political election. How did this come about to be? It’s because I’m originally from a Commonwealth country (India). UK citizens can obviously vote, but so can people from the Commonwealth currently staying in the UK. The way that this is phrased is weird, because the rules say “You must have leave to stay in the UK or not require such leave”. Which basically means practically all visa types except for travel and business can vote here, as long you’re residing in UK (even if temporarily).
Not a lot of people know this. Ok, so maybe the Aussies and Canadians here know about it because the Queen is still technically the head of state in those countries. Still, the level of ignorance – both among UK citizens and residents from Commonwealth staying here – amazes me. Voting is a privilege that not even EU residents enjoy in the UK, and by staying unaware / unconcerned about this right a large group of residents here are squandering away their chance to vote for the policies they want.
In a small place like the UK, immigration is a big issue. The whole recent ‘Bigotgate’ controversy sparked off from a comment current Prime Minister Gordon Brown made after a woman spoke about ‘flocks of Eastern Europeans‘. EU citizens can’t vote, but those of us from the Commonwealth are also affected by immigration issues – so why not vote to represent our voice? And it’s not just that of course. Once we have a right to vote, we have the duty to vote and choose policies that we as stakeholders feel is best for education sector, economy, health, and many other issues.
I voted for the Labour Party. Say whatever you want about Gordon Brown, the Labour Party’s policies make the most sense. (I’m not surprised since I support left-of-centre Congress Party in India.) Liberal Democrats are having a surge over here, but I find their policies to be too idealistic – too “Yo maaaaaan, we’re hippies…love peace and all that shit…where’s that next joint of weed” for my liking. The right-wing Conservative Party has no real policies, only making ad hominem attacks on the current government.
I am, what one would call, a “Guardian reader“.
So how exactly does the voting process work? Registration is damn easy – just fill out a form online and the send it by post. The only details asked for are your name and address; not even your even date of birth is required, nor is any copy of proof of identity. I sent my registration form, but found that I was already registered, since the university accommodation office automatically does it for anyone who stays in university-owned accommodation.
Voting day today. Just turn up with your voting details (sent on a postcard), state your name, and vote. (The polling station allocated to me was within our university’s lecture theatre block.) You don’t even need the voting details postcard, and no ID is asked for. You get a paper ballot, mark the candidate you want with a pencil/pen, and drop it in the ballot box. That’s. it. Results start coming in within a day.
I can’t help but think that only here would they take anyone’s word for who they are and whether they’re eligible to vote. Has any occurence of impersonation never happened? Do political parties here trust each enough to this extent?! In India, you’d need to go through a long process to get yourself registered, then bring some sort of government-approved proof of identity, leave any form of cellphones or bags at home (you just can’t take a cellphone; if you’re carrying one, you’ll be turned away), walk into a complex heavily fortified by armed paramilitary and police personnel (you’ve a park any vehicles a few hundred metres away), get scrutinised further, and then finally get to vote. By the end of it, you probably tired of the whole accompanying circus. We probably make up for all this with our electronic voting machines though. :)
Also, there’s nothing stopping you here from registering in multiple constituencies, and voting multiple times (in different constituencies.) Once again, the electoral authorities will take your word for it. Unlike India, you won’t be marked with an indelible ink mark on one of your fingers to ensure that you can’t vote multiple times. But if people are honest enough, it’s a good thing that the election process is made as less intimidating as possible.
(On that note, I should mention that when I was a kid, I used to think that people were marked with inedible ink, as opposed to indelible ink. I always used to wonder why a clarification was need to tell people that the ink used was inedible.)
(Also, on another note it’s really sad that as a kid I used to ponder upon the type of ink used in Indian elections.)
I know that the Labour Party will probably not win in Guildford, since their vote share in last elections was in single digits, with Liberal Democrats and Conservatives tied. In the last elections in 2005, Conservatives won by a mere 347 votes.
Why didn’t I vote ‘strategically’ for the Lib Dems, to keep Tories out of power? For me, Parliamentary elections are about expressing your support for the policies that you believe in, rather than scheming to bring a certain set of people into power according to what takes your fancy. And if the Labour Party has to start making inroads in this constituency, it’s important for Labour supporters to show that; otherwise, we end up in a vicious cycle of “Labour having no chance”.
It feels nice to have cast my first vote in an election, and odd at the same time because it wasn’t in my own country. I think the Commonwealth is the only framework that allows anything like this. :)
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