Bangladeshis take part in the world’s first cross-border election

Published in The Independent on 1 May 2010

The national voting polls haven’t yet opened in the United Kingdom, but the Liberal Democrats have already had a “major landslide victory” in Bangladesh, said Clemmie James, the Bangladesh coordinator of the Give Your Vote campaign.  Up until midnight yesterday, thousands of Bangladeshis cast their votes in the UK elections via text messages.  They used the votes donated to them by UK citizens who have pledged to represent their votes on election day.  It is the world’s first ever cross-border election.

The Give Your Vote campaign has also enabled people in Ghana and Afghanistan to participate, on the premise that the results of the UK election will have a major impact on some of the world’s poorest – particularly in the areas of trade, aid, immigration, war and climate change.  Bangladeshi economist and member of the Nobel-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmed said, “In the highly iniquitous global order, the developed countries call all the shots. Give Your Vote invokes the inherent equality of all human beings to take part in global, political, economic and climate change related decisions by developed countries, that affect their lives and livelihoods.” 

Give Your Vote has run a month-long campaign in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Ghana to raise awareness about the opportunity to take part in the UK elections.  In Bangladesh, the manifestos of the UK’s three main parties, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, were translated into Bangla, and screenings of the election debates were televised live in Terra Bistro and in an open-air forum at Dhaka University last Tuesday.  But it didn’t stop there – the campaign team also visited slums in northern Dhaka, and returned yesterday to present the slum dwellers with answers to the questions they posed to the UK’s political parties.  Five or six slum dwellers also attended the rally and human chain for global democracy that was held at the National Press Club yesterday morning.

Atique Chowdhury, Bangladesh campaign organiser said, “I am from a small island in the Bay of Bengal. Two islands in the area are already disappearing due to rising sea levels.  As a victim of climate change, I believe I have the right to vote for the people who are making decisions on my behalf.”  Muttaki Bin Kamal, 22, who is currently undertaking peace and conflict studies at Dhaka University, said, “For me, it was key that the Liberal Democrats did not support the war in Iraq.  My least favourite party is the Conservatives.  Conservative policies, including those outside the UK, always have a very negative stand.  They say, ‘We cannot let the immigrants in so easily, and we cannot have their goods in our markets so easily.  We must be hard core realists.’”  He added, “Personally I support liberalism rather than realism.  Liberalism can bring peace, solidarity and brotherhood.  We have been fighting for these ideas for a long time – since the French Revolution, the Revolution of Islam and the Gaudan Buddha Revolution.  I think that realism, like Machiavellianism, is no good.”

Mohammad Feroz Ahmmead, 30, a development worker, said, “Some may say I have no right to vote because I do not pay taxes in the UK.  But there are many people in the UK who are in solidarity with Bangladeshis because they know we are affected.”  One such person is Margarita, 72, who runs a cafe in a London market.  In a press statement she said, “We have one world – not seven.  I want to be in harmony with the people around the world who are affected by the UK and by giving my vote I am helping others have a voice.”

Clemmie James said, “It’s been really exciting. The major thing has been the realisation that for certain countries, electing a national leader is not enough – because those national leaders happen to be global leaders. The UK is a global superpower, so whoever runs it has to be accountable and has to have a foreign policy that is fair and just to those it influences.”  She added, “We have had some criticism from people who questioned how much people in the slums know about UK politics. But the people in the slums knew about the Iraq War and they knew that two million people in London marched in protest against it.”

The idea behind Give Your Vote first formed when Clemmie’s friend was watching the US election in Syria with Iraqi refugees, who said they wished they could take part.  Clemmie said that since the campaign started, Give Your Vote has received emails from people in Venezuela, Israel, Palestine and Zimbabwe who want to be involved in the next cross-border election.

Give Your Vote has its sights set on the 2012 US elections, and it will join forces with Bolivia, who is seeking a global referendum on climate change.  Clemmie said, “We want to work with people around the world who are starting to consider what global democracy would look like.”

It may not be a win-win situation for the British politicians on May 6, but it just might be for the people.

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