EU candidate offers fresh start

British candidate in EU elections calls for increased accountability for politicians.

    From the UK to Italy parties with a strong anti-immigration agenda are making political gains [AFP]

    What Sohale Rahman lacks in political experience, he makes up for in enthusiasm.

    I guess he has to.

    As an independent candidate for the London region in the European elections, people are not exactly clamouring to hear what he has to say.

    But that does not stop him, on a rare sunny afternoon in an East London market, from cornering potential voters and explaining what his campaign is about.

    "Two-thirds of us don't vote, did you know that?" Rahman calls out, while handing out his leaflets.

    Accountable change

    The business consultant turned community worker promises to be accountable, contactable and transparent in his work. He has pledged the $8,000 needed to run in the election from his own pocket, and refuses any political donations.

    Rahman wants to show Europeans that there is a way to co-exist with different ethnicities 
    While canvassing, he makes a virtue of his inexperience in the political arena. He says he wants to make a difference, not live off expenses.

    The European elections rarely get pulses racing in the UK, but these are dark days for politics as a whole in Britain.

    For weeks now, newspaper headlines have been dominated by the lavish expenses claimed by members of parliament which, although legal, have antagonised a public struggling with the economic crisis.

    The claims have ranged from chandeliers to duck houses, and the taxpayers left to foot the bill are making their anger clear: "I wouldn't vote for any of them," says 70-year-old Beth, who ignored Rahman's leaflets.

    "They don't do anything except take our money. They don't deserve our vote," she said.

    Profane parliament

    Britain's political scandal of recent weeks is tame by the standards of some other European countries, but it has tainted the so-called mother of all parliaments in the eyes of those it represents.

    Disenchantment with national politics has inevitably spilled over to the European elections, but does not hold Rahman up.

    He says there is a bigger threat than voter discontent and that is the rise of far-right parties across Europe.

    Immigration is one of the key topics in most countries, and from the Netherlands to Italy parties with a strong anti-immigration agenda have been making political gains.

    Rahman fears that protest votes against the main political players may end up strengthening smaller parties with a thinly-veiled racist agenda.

    He is also a Londoner born and bred, and thinks that being from such a multicultural city could help him show other Europeans that there is a way to co-exist.

    "When my parents came to this country as immigrants they faced racism. But then, in time, things changed," he said.

    "Now I feel it's my responsibility, as a British citizen living in London, to continue with that change.

    "Otherwise you get far-right parties like the British National Party, who complain about immigration, Muslims, Jews and they get elected if they go unchallenged.

    "But they have to be challenged. Whenever I've challenged them, their policies have crumbled."

    Accepted ethnic

    He has definitely picked a symbolic place to canvass. Walthamstow in East London is one of the most multicultural parts of the capital.

    Rahman fears that voters will make protest votes in favour of the far right
    In the busy street market, people of all backgrounds mix seamlessly, from the second and third generation Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities, to the most recent influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe.

    Rahman said: "In Europe, ethnic minorities are accepted only if they've achieved something great.

    "So Algerians are accepted if they're Zinedine Zidane, scoring winning goals in the World Cup.

    "But otherwise ethnic minorities are rarely accepted. Whereas in Britain we tend to accept people for what they are."

    Rahman's political inexperience means that it is improbable that he will make the European parliament this time.

    But he is still trying to push his message and to get people involved in politics.

    As I leave him, I hear him crying after a woman who said she wasn't going to vote: "But how will you make a change if you don't vote! Politicians are taking our tax money!"

    He may not officially be a politician yet, but he's unlikely to give up anytime soon.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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