Election time !

On 6th of May, 2010, Britain went to the polls….and I voted too !

“So how did you vote when you don’t have a British passport ?”, is a question that a lot of people have been asking me. Well, being the citizen of a Commonwealth country and a resident of the UK, the law allows me to vote here. Perhaps, its just a small compensation for the British having ruled us for over three centuries, but on a more serious note, when I pay my taxes and my National Insurance here [..and quite a lot at that], it does make sense that I get to have a say in something that would directly impact my money and my life. And this fairness is one of the things that I like about this country.

“So why would you vote ? Have you ever voted in India ?” – a few of my Indian friends here have asked me when I expressed my intention to vote. To the first part of the question, I’ve already responded in the preceding paragraph. And as for the second part, I can’t see how that question is relevant at all. The answer is Yes, by the way….I have indeed voted in India, and the election process here in the UK seemed a lot more clearer and transparent to me, than what I had experienced back in India. The main problem I’ve had in India was deciding on a particular political party to vote for. I never really fancied any party and had issues against every single one of them. They’re all crooks, if you ask me. Not that the parties here are made up of immaculate fairies. But then, their manifestoes are easily accessible and I’ve had leaflets dropped at my doorstep by the local candidates, describing what they stand for. That made it a lot more simpler to compare and contrast their views on different policies and make an educated choice. Moreover, the Prime Ministerial candidates have been on television in a series of live debates, and that, to a certain extent helped in deciding who you wanted to be in charge of the nation.

Back in India, I’ve been inundated with campaign leaflets too. But then, they generally contain just images of a human palm or a lotus or something, and nothing about what their manifestoes are. The local candidates would occasionally drop in at home, and the local lads from the neighbourhood would be around too, asking us to vote for their parties. It somehow, never seemed important to any of them to have it put on paper on what they would do for the local economy, society, roads and education or how they intend to tackle unemployment, pollution,  crime-rate, power shortage or corruption. After casting the vote, the lads would be back again…asking if it was indeed their parties that I voted for. My mom would ask me to say ‘Yes’, and reluctantly I agree, just to get rid of them. But what the hell ? Hasn’t anybody heard of the ‘secret ballot’ system ?

My mom, by the way, never votes. She doesn’t believe in any of the parties, and is quite justified in that. But then, she refuses to go to the polls and invoke Rule 49-0 too […which essentially means that a valid voter decided not to record his/her vote]. Doing this, I believe, would not only show her faith in the constitution [if not in the political parties], but more importantly, would also ensure that her vote is not rigged and cast by someone else….which is quite possible ! But must admit, thanks to an educated population, the situation in my state is still a lot better, than others where votes are often bought by offers of free colour televisions, or sarees or rice !

I’ve voted in the European Parliamentary elections here last year. But this was the first time I got to vote into the House of Commons [analogous to the Lok Sabha in India, but established some time as early as in the 14th century !]. So that Thursday evening after work, eager and excited, I grabbed my election card and walked in to the polling station, which was at the nearby school. [Voting here is open until 10pm, which means that the working day is not affected.] A couple of things surprised me though….the first being that they still use paper ballots, as against electronic voting machines in India. However, counting happens throughout the night and the results to all 650 seats are available the very next day.

Secondly, I was surprised to hear of the existence of the ‘Christian Party’. They didn’t come anywhere close to winning though, but it still was surprising to know that such religious parties do exist here, especially when religion is no more significant in Europe [as against America], and most people do not practice religion.

Thirdly, when I went in to vote, I was not asked to produce any photo ID to identify myself. The only authentication that was asked of me was to confirm my surname, which I did. But then, I could have asked anyone else to do that on my behalf. I did have to give them my election card. But that was just a post card that I had received by normal post on the basis of the fact that I had registered myself in the local council over the telephone. No one had come home to verify whether I actually lived there or whether I was actually old enough to vote. But then, I guess a lot of things in this country run on trust.

It has now been four days since Britain went to the polls. Yet, we are still without a new Prime Minister or a government. As the uncertainty of a hung parliament lingers on, negotiations between the leading parties are supposed to be proceeding in full swing, behind closed doors. So what’s taking them so long ? Back in India, where the legislature is based on the British model, hung parliaments are the norm and almost every general election ends up without any single party gaining an absolute majority. However, coalitions are quickly cooked up, often between the most unlikely of partners. Here in UK, such blatant marriages of convenience would not be easily accepted, I guess. Parties would have to stand by their manifestoes and would have to negotiate on how best their respective policies can be worked out in the interest of the nation.

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