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Muslim votes count in UK elections
By Mozammel Haque
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 25 - 04 - 2010

Another salient feature of UK's 2010 General Election is that Muslim vote will play an important and decisive role. It can turn the balance and make a difference. There are two very important things to note about Muslim vote. First: The registration of Muslim voters to be able to vote or apply for a postal vote – the deadline (April 20) of which has now passed. Second: The turnout of Muslim voters on the day of voting (May 6) at polling stations. In this election Muslim vote could be a key factor.
But the big question is about voter registration. On April 14, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, told me, “More than one third of our voters have not as yet registered. Those who are eligible to vote have not as yet registered.”
An ICM poll commissioned by the BBC Asian Network over the Easter period interviewed 500 people over the age of 18 from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds. It found that just over four in 10 Asian voters intended to make the trip to the ballot box. The figure is lower than the population at large. According to a recent ICM Guardian poll 55 percent of the general population is expected to vote. Last time around the vote was higher among the Asian community than the general population.
Leading Muslim scholars are backing a campaign to get more people from the Muslim community to vote. A Muslim campaigner has set up A Get Out and Vote website and a YouTube channel to encourage young Muslims to make it to the ballot box. Muslim scholars have given their backing to the campaign to try to get more people from the community to vote in the general election.
Muslim leaders urge all voters to resist “any tendencies towards apathy”. The statement urges Muslims to seize the opportunity: “Muslims should still exercise their judgement and use the opportunity to vote for trustworthy candidates. Candidates who they believe will represent their needs and values better than others, and honorably discharge their duty to seek the common good in a spirit of public service. This election is critical to the health of the parliament.”
A study by Professor Muhammad Anwar from the University of Warwick's Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations has found that Asians are significantly more likely to make the trip to the ballot box than people of other backgrounds. “Asians have the tendency to come out and vote in greater numbers compared to non-Asians. This makes them very important and reliable voters,” he said. In the last general election, the Asian turnout – 76% of Bangladeshis, 70% of Pakistanis and 67% of Indians – was much higher than the national average, which was only 61 percent.
Professor Anwar noted that ethnic minorities' turnout is now higher than the national average. “Our research shows that the higher level of turn out among Asians and particularly Muslim groups is likely to continue in the future.” In this general election, because of the location of Asians and the numbers involved, their vote is going to be crucial. Whichever party they support will benefit significantly. All major parties are trying to get their support.
Professor Anwar noted that although nationally ethnic minorities are only 10 percent of the population, there are 25 parliamentary constituencies where more than 40 percent of the voting population is from ethnic minorities, according to the 2001 census. These constituencies include: East Harrow (66.3%), Birmingham Ladywood (64.9%), Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath (64.8%), and Brent South (64.6%). The voters from Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian communities are more likely to turn out than their white neighbors,” wrote Anwar.
Muslim vote could determine the outcome in more than 50 parliamentary seats in the general election. There are certain areas, Muslim constituencies such as East London, New Ham and other areas like Dewsbury, Bolton, Blackburn and Birmingham, where Muslim vote will be the deciding factor.
Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) in its website noted the top 10 constituencies with the biggest Muslim voting potential. On the other hand, another popular Muslim campaigner in Britain, MPACUK, which has launched the biggest ever campaign to mobilize Muslim voters, claims that the Muslim vote could prove decisive with 82 constituencies due to a Muslim population large enough to determine the result. The organization said that 82 constituencies have a Muslim population larger than the incumbent MP's margin of victory.
British Muslim groups are trying to convince Muslim voters to cast their votes intelligently for the best candidates. Different Muslim websites are highlighting Muslim concerns and urging Muslim voters to support candidates who are promoting their concerns. There are some interesting Muslim initiatives like the YouElect website, the Get Out and Vote website and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK).
The issues Muslims in Britain are concerned about are: Terrorism and security; anti-terrorism legislation; Iraq and Afghanistan wars; stop and search; immigration; civil liberties; and Islamophobia. But “not a single party has addressed directly the concerns of the ethnic minority,” said Sir Iqbal. “I am very disappointed that the Muslims along with other mainstream party candidates in this general election are very shy to talk about the problems faced by the British Muslims,” said Barrister Ahmed A. Malik, who announced his candidacy as an Independent Member of Parliament for London's Bethnal Green and Bow constituency.


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