Thursday, 13 May 2010


World | UK
Bangladeshis 'vote' in British election via donated ballots
Thousands of people in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Ghana used votes "donated" by members of the British public to take part in UK election

Published: 12:03 May 4, 2010

Activists from the group called "Give your vote" gather behind a banner in Dhaka, as they stage a rally in front of The National Press Club. Image Credit: AFP
Dhaka: Bangladeshi musician Abdul Sabuj does not own a passport and rarely ventures far from the Dhaka slum he calls home, but thanks to a new vote-donating project, he will have a say in Britain's elections.

Ahead of polling day in Britain on Thursday, Sabuj and thousands of others like him in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Ghana have used votes "donated" by members of the British public.

The "Give Your Vote" scheme asks British citizens to pass on their votes to residents of poor countries that are heavily affected by British foreign policy.

Under the experimental system, British voters are matched with people in the three countries who then inform a centralised text messaging service of how they want the vote used.

"I voted for the Liberal Democrats as they've pledged major cuts in carbon emissions by 2050," Sabuj, 36, told AFP after casting his vote by sending a text message.

"Many people, including my family who lost their house to river erosion, are suffering from climate change in Bangladesh, and I know that developing countries are most responsible for this," Sabuj said.

"When I heard of 'Give Your Vote' I saw this was an opportunity for me to have a say."

Bangladesh-based Give Your Vote organiser Clemmie James said she had encountered some criticism of the pioneering project from foreigners living and working in the South Asian country.

"Many have told me it is naive to take the campaign to Dhaka's slums, assuming that people will not even know or care about the UK government," she said.

"But the people I have conversed with are not ignorant of things that go beyond their everyday existence."
London-based organiser May Abdalla said several thousand votes had been donated, but could not specify how many votes Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Ghana would each receive until after the vote donation line closes on Tuesday night.

The "Give Your Vote" website said it would try to pair people up individually but admitted the plan was untested.

"If necessary, we will calculate the proportions for each party, randomise who to send which result to, and fire out the emails and texts," it explained.

"On the eve of the UK election, participants in the UK will receive an SMS or email, indicating which party their partner in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Ghana wishes them to vote for."

A plan for donors to take pictures of themselves voting had to be scrapped as it was illegal under British electoral law.

Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats appeared to be wildly popular in Bangladesh, with Labour far back in second and the Conservatives struggling to make any impression, Abdalla said.

"We're not trying to swing the election on the basis of these votes, the significance of it is to prove that people outside of national borders want and can be involved in decisions that affect them," Abdalla told AFP.
"The idea that people are 'global citizens' who can participate and make a stand for democracy resonates very much in this interconnected world."

The "Give Your Vote" scheme named Adam Elliot-Cooper as one British citizen who gave his vote away.
"Our economic policy affects Ghana," he told the website. "Our climate policy affects Bangladesh hugely due to the danger of flooding (and) of course our foreign policy affects the people of Afghanistan a great deal."
The project has been backed by South African peace activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who described it as an idea that was "exciting, brave and emphasises our common humanity."

The opportunity attracted many young Bangladeshi students, like Mottaki Bin Kaml, who has never voted in his own country's elections, but is passionate about Britain's May 6 poll.

"I didn't vote in Bangladesh as I don't support any of the parties here, they're all corrupt, but I want to vote in the British election as global warming is a big issue for us here," he said.

"I hope that this project will have an impact, it is really great that people are showing solidarity by donating their votes like this," he said.

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