Monday, May 10, 2010

The British General Election, 6 May 2010

Why I welcome a hung Parliament

Election time in the UK can be a bit of a surreal experience for Pakistanis with entitlement to vote in British elections. A part of the problem is the difficulty of identifying with the politics of a country where they are constantly being suspected of being “extremists” or, worse, “terrorists”.  For Pakistanis, a feeling of unease in this unfriendly environment is inevitable, and the desire to see their grossly twisted image changed is correspondingly very strong. A first step in that direction would be a change in the unfair policies of successive British administrations.

The injustice of British policies towards Muslims in general, and towards Pakistanis in particular, can be grasped by considering the steps that successive British governments have taken in relation to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, in which the British government played a key role, was preceded by a long campaign of disinformation and deliberate deception by Labour Party’s Tony Blair, he of the “Bush’s poodle” fame. Eventually, the  Conservative Party was persuaded to back his controversial decision to line up some 45,000 British troops behind the USA’s 250,000-strong invasion force. It was left to the  Liberal Democrats, the third largest political grouping in the UK, to oppose Blair’s ingratiating support of the USA’s power crazed neoconservatives in the Republican government, hell bent on controlling the oil and gas of the Middle East, and the political governments of that region. It is a sad fact that there exist politicians in the West who consider the destruction of Iraq, and the mass murder of Iraqis, a price worth paying for the control they now exercise over Iraq.

Subsequently, the British government decided to contribute troops to Afghanistan to assist the Americans in their occupation of that country. The lame excuse on this occasion was that the security of British citizens was at risk if such military action were not taken. No attempt has been made to offer credible evidence to the British public in support of this dubious theory, which has resulted in the hell of Iraq being re-created in Afghanistan. Many people believe that the government’s actions have actually resulted in antagonising the Muslim world and increasing the risk of attack on British citizens. The suspected underlying reasons for invading Afghanistan - the control of natural resources of Central Asia - have almost become irrelevant as new realities and new facts are created as a result of Afghan resistance to foreign occupation. The military action in Afghanistan is backed by the Conservatives and also, unfortunately, by the Liberal Democrats. However, the latter’s policy is to reach a political settlement with moderate elements in the Afghan Resistance against foreign occupation, which would enable British troops to be brought back home. The two major political parties, Labour and the Conservatives, favour continued presence of British troops in Afghanistan until “victory” is achieved.

Bogged down in Afghanistan, and unable to see a way out, the policy makers in the USA administration came up with a brilliant idea: extend the war into Pakistan and get the Pakistan Army to perform much of their dirty work on the ground while missiles are rained down on Pakistanis sympathetic to Afghan Resistance. The missiles are fired from unmanned aerial vehicles, the so-called UAVs or “drones”, remotely operated by Americans living in safety hundreds or, possibly, thousands of miles away, playing a deadly computer game with living human beings. The USA has been able to implement its inhuman policies in Pakistan because, with useful support from the British government, it has been able to set up a false façade of “legitimate government” in Pakistan, headed by corrupt and immoral military and civilian rulers such as Musharraf and Zardari.

On the face of it Pakistan is being gradually reduced to the same fate as has been visited upon Iraq and Afghanistan. There is, however, a crucial difference: Pakistan is a nuclear state and the conspiring western powers need to tread with caution. In addition, Pakistan’s independent Judiciary and the Media constitute a big hurdle in the way of the conspiring western powers. Nonetheless, the immensely powerful USA/British propaganda machine, backed up with malicious Indian propaganda, has succeeded in blackening the image of Pakistan. This has reduced people of Pakistan origin living in the UK to issuing pathetic apologies for the real and imagined sins of commission and omission that the American-British propaganda has charged the Pakistani nation with.

As one originating from Pakistan, I detest the policies of the Conservative and Labour parties towards Muslim countries and towards Pakistan. Since 2001 more than 3 million Muslims are estimated to have been killed by the policies and inhuman actions of western politicians. The Holocaust, Hitler’s purge of the Jews in the nineteen forties, is said to have claimed 6 million lives. As Muslim deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan  relentlessly climb towards that  figure, there appears to be deathly silence as this crime against humanity is played out on the world stage as a piece of macabre theatre.

As a helpless witness of this gory episode in human history I, as a so-called British Pakistani, cast my vote in this month’s  British General Election in favour of Liberal Democrats. This, in my opinion, is one political party which is still recognisably human, its features not yet distorted by the insane desire for power. Thankfully, the election has resulted in a balanced Parliament – which the political pundits call “hung Parliament” – where no single political party enjoys an absolute majority.  As the party with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons, the Conservative Party will need the support of Liberal Democrats if it is to form the next government. It is an official policy of Liberal Democrats to improve the current unfair electoral system, which can result in a party with little more than one-third of the electoral vote ending up with a large majority in the House of Commons. Currently, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are deep in negotiations to work out a deal under which the latter will support a government headed by the Conservative leader, David Cameron, as Prime Minister. It is too early to say how the negotiations will pan out. However, I would be very surprised if the Liberal Democrats agreed to water down too much their demand for a system of proportional representation in Parliament, under which the composition of members in the House of Commons would be a fair reflection of the share of votes claimed by the various parties in a general election.

The current ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system heavily favours the two largest political parties, Labour and the Conservatives. The party forming the government may only have the support of a little over a third of the electorate but it can end up with a disproportionately large number of members in the House of Commons. This enables an essentially minority government to ride roughshod over the opinions of large sections of the population.

Let me illustrate this by means of some statistics relating to this month’s general election. The House of Commons in the British Parliament has 650 seats. The number of seats won by each of the three largest political parties, and the share of the electoral vote, were as follows:

Conservatives : 307 seats (47% of the 650 seats); 36% of votes cast.

Labour :  258 seats (40% of the 650 seats); 29% of votes cast.

Liberal Democrats: 57 seats (9% of the 650 seats); 23% of votes cast.

Because of their financial muscle and slick organisations, the two largest political parties have won a much higher percentage of parliamentary seats compared to their share of the electoral vote. The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, won only 9% of seats in Parliament while their share of the total vote was 23%. Little wonder that the Liberal Democrats favour a system of Proportional Representation in Parliament, which would give them substantially more members in Parliament than they do under the current “winner takes all” system. Not surprisingly, Labour and the Conservatives are not keen on the idea of a change in electoral voting to a PR system.

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