Never Mind the Ballots, I'm Voting for Raif Badawi!
The boring campaign. The puerile campaign. The too-close-to-call-but-I'm-going-to-go-on-about-the-endless-permutations-of-possible-coalition-deals-anyway campaign. Yes, it's General Election 2015 and it's ... nearly over.
By Neil Durkin, Press Officer at Amnesty International, UK. - in The Huffington Post
Like a lot of people (most, I suspect), my "engagement" with the election has been slender at best. I freely confess that I haven't come close to actually reading a party manifesto. Have I been to a political meeting or an election hustings? Er, no. Have I even watched any of the television debates? Er, again, no, sorry, I just read (a little bit) about them the next day.
I'm not particularly proud of it, but there you are. I guess I've been lazy, complacent. In my defence I have managed to read a couple of biggish articles on the economics of austerity and I do usually check out commentators like David Runciman, Iain Martin and George Eaton. But yes, it's true, I've been a washout. I mean - I didn't even watch the bloody Brand-Miliband interview for god's sake!
In a way this is one effect of living in a "mature" democracy like the UK's. You can pick and choose. Engage or disengage (turn on, tune in, spoil your ballot paper). Voter turnouts in the UK are historically low and the political commentariat agonise endlessly about this. But this is also the pattern globally, and the UK is only following a worldwide trend of falling voter levels (Wikipedia rather laconically notes that "low turnout may be due to disenchantment, indifference, or contentment". Well, yes).
So while I'm sort of on-trend with my semi-distant relationship with British politics, I also take Owen Jones' point about basic rights (including the right to vote) being extremely hard fought for (we stand on the shoulder of giants, as he puts it). In other words, my quasi-disengagement is a conscious one. I may "switch off" with most modern politics, but I still appreciate the historical struggle that went into winning universal suffrage (the nineteenth-century reform act movements, the Chartists, the heroism of Emmeline Pankhurst and others ...).
And on this election day it's well worth remembering that 7 May is also the day last year on which the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to ten years in jail and 1,000 lashes for criticising the authorities in entirely-election-free Saudi Arabia. Raif Badawi - remember him? A writer who had the temerity to publicly question the religious basis of political rule in his own country and the wider Middle East. Someone who's already been brutally flogged in a public square 50 times and, for all of the publicity about his case earlier in the year, is still facing 950 lashes and nine more years behind bars? (Take action on his case here).
When Badawi received this outrageous sentence last May Saudi Arabia's ruler was King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, though now of course power has passed to Abdullah's half-brother King Salman. The key phrase being: power has passed. Saudi Arabia doesn't bother with such modern fads as democracy and enfranchisement, preferring to do things in the old-fashioned feudal manner: by royal succession. It also totally bans political parties, trade unions and human rights organisations, forbids all public demonstrations, and regularly jails critics and opponents. Democracy by stubby pencil in a commandeered classroom may not be the most enriching and full-fledged forms of participatory politics, but it's a hell of a lot better than Saudi Arabia's offering.
From the outside in, the UK political system apparently seems pretty weird. El País' London correspondent Pablo Guimón says: "Even the name is funny: first past the post. It sounds like a board game in which a team of journalists and a team of politicians jump from one marginal seat to another, with a rich lord called Ashcroft tossing the dice."
Ha! He's got a point! But it's still better than the Saudi board game equivalent: go straight to jail and don't vote at all.