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Britain's 'cross-border' election
Campaign attempts to change democracy by letting Britons give their vote to people overseas.
Last Modified: 03 May 2010 08:39 GMT
People in Ghana are hoping to have their say in the UK elections [Giveyourvote.org]

On the streets of Kabul and Herat in Afghanistan, local people are posting pictures of Britain's three main political candidates on shop fronts, in markets and on cars.

Meetings are being held in mosques and schools, pamphlets are being handed out.

But this isn't part of a protest, or a campaign against Britain. Instead, it's an attempt to engage locals in the UK election - a poll that scores of Afghans are about to effectively take part in for the very first time.

special report

Across Ghana and Bangladesh, the same events are taking place.

On Friday, a street carnival in Accra, Ghana's capital, will celebrate the opening of phone lines to Britain, over which people will convey there choice for the next UK prime minister.

Dhaka will see a human chain across the city marking the chance for hundreds of people, most of whom have never travelled outside their country, to send in their preference for the election.

It's all part of a campaign set up by a handful of political activists, asking eligible Britons to "give up" their vote and let people in countries affected by British foreign policy to decide it for them.

'Creating equality'

The idea, the organisers say, is to challenge "the idea that democracy can only happen on a national level".

Campaigners are helping Afghan people learn about UK party policies [Giveyourvote.org]

"The decisions made in this country [the UK] are made by politicians who are only answerable to the people in one country," May Abdalla, a 27-year-old organiser of the Give Your Votecampaign, told Al Jazeera. 

"We have all experienced over the past decade a global economy, a global environment, affected by the policies made by only a few countries."

She's hoping this movement, set up by activist group Egality, will be the first step in "creating a more equal world" and hold politicians more accountable to decisions that involve other nations.

The organisation chose three countries impacted by UK policies: Afghanistan -  torn apart by a US-led war backed by Britain; Ghana - hurt by trade liberalisation schemes that the UK participates in; and Bangladesh, which suffers from climate change largely attributed to pollution pumped into the air by Western nations.

Campaign volunteers in each country have set up community meetings in schools, cafes and halls, allowing residents to read the three main party manifestos, and watch live televised debates involving the three party leaders.

'Explosion in politics'

Several thousand eligible voters in Britain have already signed up for the campaign, which involves giving a mobile number and email address, so that people in one of the participating countries can contact them with their party preference.

"If people know there's a democratic way of expressing their views they won't resort to violence. You don't have to go and fire bullets to make people realise your point."

Shakib Shariffi
Afghan voter

That process, which begins on Friday, will continue until the polls close on May 6.

The number of people involved in other countries is less clear, but interest has been high, Shakib Shariffi, a voter in Afghanistan, says. 

The 28-year-old economist and resident of Kabul says the campaign has triggered "an explosion in the world of politics" in his country.

"If people know there's a democratic way of expressing their views they won't resort to violence," he told Al Jazeera.

"You don't have to go and fire bullets to make people realise your point. There is another way."

He believes the movement is "revolutionary", and has the potential to "change the landscape of international relations".

"The decisions of the US and Britain have a direct impact on us. This is the first time we are consulted with," he says.

"It's something that they really have to care about - because they know we really have a say.

"If I was a British politician I would say 'let's make a policy that's good for everybody, because we are all part of one entity, we live in an interconnected world. Your sorrows are my pain'."

Critical view

But there are sceptics, who point out that international relations and globalisation are not the sole responsibility of Britain.

People in Ghana, Bangladesh and Afghanistan watched the live debates [Giveyourvote.org]

Rodney Barker, a professor of political science at LSE in London, says it would be "silly to think that the UK is the country that has the one lever that has control of all the others".

He says the countries which have the greatest global impact are the US and China.

"But the point is that we live in a world polity - the consequences of one country's decisions never stop at our borders."

Shariffi says along with those who become passionate supporters of the programme, there are others who simply don't see the point.

"They say 'three parties are following almost similar policies, what is the point? It won't change anything. Whoever comes to power it won't change a bit'."

'Provocative idea'

The organisers admit they're not out to alter the overall outcome of the election.

"The message is that we want to work with you as equals," Abdalla says.

"It's a provocative idea - it challenges how we think about democracy. Other people want to take it forward and use that, and this is just a small group of people doing this."

"All countries have a right to self determination - that means they are responsible for the decisions they make - it's doesn't preclude those living outside their borders"

Professor Rodney Barker
Political scientist, LSE

She says already activists in the US, Israel, France and Italy have approached her about replicating the programme in their next elections.

Other critics have questioned the implications the campaign could throw up for democracy - should British people give up their right to vote and give other nations a say in an election that is not purely about foreign policy?

But Barker believes it is a fundamental principle of democracy that people are allowed to choose how they use their vote.

"All countries have a right to self determination - that means they are responsible for the decisions they make - it doesn't preclude those living outside their borders," he says.

"[This campaign] is not saying the people of Afghanistan have a right to vote in other countries - it's saying that the citizens of the UK can take account of the wider implications of their vote.
 
"I think it could have an impact of people's concept of how broad the society they inhabit is.

"But that's also an old idea, as John Donne wrote - 'No man is an island'."

Source:
Al Jazeera
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