Role of British Pakistanis in UK Election by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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Role of British Pakistanis in UK Election
by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

The United Kingdom is considered as mother of democracy where General Election of 2017 just held yesterday on 8th June.  An estimate of around 48 Million people have registered  themselves to caste vote for electing 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons, the lower house. Britain politics revolves around two major political parties i.e., Conservative Party and Labour Party and since 1935 Prime Minister is being elected from these two parties. Other parties include Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, Green Party, and UK Independence Party, etc. Current Prime Minister Theresa May belongs to Conservative Party, who won 330 seats in House of Commons in last elections, held in May 2015. According to the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011, General elections were to be held in May 2020, but a call for a snap election was announced by the British Prime Minister this year in April.

In the context of London terror attacks, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and proposed Scottish independence referendum, it seems that great imperialist power of past is once again entering into important and historical phase.  To vote in the general election, one must be on the Electoral Register; aged 18 or over on polling day; a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen;  a British citizen living abroad, and most importantly not legally excluded from voting.  A convicted person detained in prison or a mental hospital, found guilty of certain corrupt or illegal practices is not allowed to cast his vote.  In the UK constitution, Commonwealth and Irish citizens enjoy the same civic rights as British citizens while there is also the option of applying for a postal vote or casting proxy vote on behalf of someone who is not present in the UK at the time of General Election. According to Britain media reports, more than 1.1 million citizens between 18 and 35 years had registered to vote within one month since the election was announced on 18 April where of those, around 6 Lac vote bank belongs to  youth under the age of 25 which shows that the youth vote has the potential to be highly influential in the election.

The British Empire was no doubt the largest empire in the world history and, for over a century, was the super power as well. After the end of colonial era, the UK is still playing a leading role in the international arena in the form of the Commonwealth, which is an intergovernmental organisation of 52 member states that were once territories of the British Empire, and an estimated population of as many as 2.5 billion people, nearly a third of the world population. While Queen Elizabeth II serves as the Head of the Commonwealth, the organization is known for uniting member countries for strengthening the values of democracy, world peace, social harmony, human rights, free trade, and the rule of law.
Pakistan, being an important member of the Commonwealth, enjoys close cordial relations with the UK. Before the independence, a number of brave people belonging to present-day Pakistan had fought World Wars under the banner of British Royal Army. However, the 9/11 and the Iraq War have increased tensions at both sides.

According to a careful estimate, the current population of British Pakistanis is exceeding 1.17 million and due to which, Pakistani origin people living in the UK is considered as one of the largest overseas Pakistani communities and the UK as home to the largest Pakistani diaspora in Europe. British Pakistanis also have major contributions for the betterment of British society and their influence in different fields of life including politics can be observed. There are ten people of Pakistani origin representing in current House of Commons where half are Pakistani women. Renowned Pakistani politician Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar has honoured to become first Muslim Member of British Parliament in 1997 while Sadiq Khan is first Muslim Cabinet Minister and current mayor of London. Other prominent Pakistani origin politicians included Lord Nazir Ahmed, Sajid Javed, Saeeda Warsi and Lord Tariq Ahmed. Despite all the negative propaganda about Pakistani people, the outstanding performance by such Pakistani politicians is being acknowledged by British media as role model and rising stars.

Traditionally, the Labour Party is most favorite political party of British Pakistanis but a number of Pakistani origin politicians are also taking interest in the Conservative Party. Similarly, Liberal Democrats is also trying hard to win the support of British Pakistanis.  A study report about role of ethnic Pakistani voters in the 2010 general election shows that 60% British Pakistanis casted vote to Labour Party, 13% of them voted Conservative, and 25% to Liberal Democrats. Michael Wade, Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Pakistan, aims to promote close relations between his Conservative Party, the British Pakistani citizens and Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistani woman politician Saeeda Warsi was promoted to Chairman of the Conservative Party while Sajjad Karim being Member of the European Parliament on the platform of the Conservative Party is founding Chairman of the European Parliament Friends of Pakistan Group.

UK parliament, the mother of parliaments, has known to set the pattern for many democracies throughout the world, including Pakistan and contesting of 30 Pakistani British politicians in the UK general elections is a lesson for Pakistani political parties as well. I believe that dual vote right must be provided to Non-Muslims in Pakistani, and at least 15-20 consistencies must be open for Pakistani Non-Muslim community on the basis of population so that they will be able to send their actual representatives in the parliament  through election, instead of selection. Pakistani political parties must also prove their commitment to democracy by issuing tickets to Non-Muslims in the upcoming general elections. As the legal system of Pakistan is derived from English common laws, therefore, I think we must also follow the democratic attitude shown by the UK for issuing party tickets to the minorities.

Despite the active role of Pakistani origin citizens in the British politics, the involvement of alleged Pakistani origin extremists in London terror attacks is a matter of grave concern. In the most recent London attack,  one of the alleged terror suspects and Pakistani British citizen Khurram Butt had been radicalized in the UK, not in Pakistan. At the time when the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Rad-ul-Fasad are succeed for curbing the terrorism in Pakistan at larger scale, Pakistani origin British citizens must also eliminate black sheep among their ranks and convince their countrymen that terrorism is a global issue and not limited to any specific religion or nationality. In the past, the UK had faced worst kind of terrorism in the hands of Irish separatists, and alleged terrorist of the recent London attack is also found to use Irish identity. Keeping this in view, the trend of linking Pakistan to global terror incidents must be discouraged. Whoever wins the elections, I believe that the issues related to the Brexit, terrorism, economy growth and decision about Scottish independence will be top priorities of the next government. I would like to appeal Pakistani community living the UK to take practical steps for bringing peace loving people of both countries closer. The evil powers must be defeated through active participation in the democratic process.

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