Give an Afghan your vote, activists urge Britons

Sun Mar 14, 2010 3:03pm EDT
 

By Olesya Dmitracova

LONDON (Reuters) - Activist group, Egality, is inviting British voters to give their right to vote to someone in one of three developing countries which, it says, are "directly affected by UK policies on war, climate and poverty."

Britons can register from Monday on www.giveyourvote.org to donate votes to Afghans, Ghanaians or Bangladeshis and, on the eve of the election -- expected on May 6 -- they will receive a text message telling them who wants to vote for which party.

"I've voted in the past but I find that this is a really exciting way for my vote to be important and to count ... Our actions in this country are responsible for so much all over the world," said student Fanny Rhodes-James, 23, who plans to donate her vote.

Hundreds of Britons have already committed their votes, Egality says, adding it expects thousands to register.

At the last two general elections in 2001 and 2005, national turnout in Britain slumped to around 60 percent, compared to 77 percent in 1992.

"When we complain that our political parties are all the same, that voting changes nothing, we're missing the vital perspective of vulnerable people in developing nations -- people whose livelihoods can be destroyed by the stroke of a pen in an anonymous office in Whitehall," Egality said in a statement.

Whitehall is shorthand for British government departments.

Ghanaian Kwabena Okai Ofosuhene says one of the reasons he wants a vote in the British election is Britain's influence on international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, which are "key to development in Ghana."

"UK is one of the leading economies in the world and one of Ghana's leading trading partners," he told Reuters by telephone.

Britain's political clout is another factor, added Ofosuhene who works for a non-governmental organization. "America would not have gone to Iraq without the UK backing it, or to Afghanistan without the UK," he said.

Britain is one of the world's biggest donors of development and humanitarian aid, with the government saying it donated 5.5 billion pounds ($8.34 billion) between 2008 and 2009.

Would-be voters in the three participating countries can contact Egality with questions for British politicians and British volunteers can put them to their local parliamentary representatives, in local debates or via media channels.

"We are essentially running a UK election campaign (in those countries), not dissimilar to what the Electoral Commission does in the UK," said campaign coordinator May Abdalla.

An Electoral Commission spokesman said that if people were not being paid for votes, there was nothing illegal in Egality campaign and said he had not heard of a similar campaign before.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)