Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Floating Voter

I was talking to my Senegalese friend Fred about the recent Presidential elections in his country and which he was decrying as fixed (outgoing president Abdoulaye Wade being re-elected). I have to take him on his word for want of any real knowledge about Senegalese politics, but I was impressed by the fact that he was able to vote from Paris, as, presumably tens of thousands of other Senegalese living abroad can too (or at least those that have their foreign residencies regularised). Which is more than I can do from here; once again if I want to vote in May's General Election - assuming it doesn't arrive before then - it will be with the help of Ryanair that I do so, and given that I'm already taking a week off work that month for my brother's wedding in Andalusia, that may not be too feasible.

People have been arguing for votes for emigrants for a long time and successive governments, nervous at the prospect of facing a section of the electorate that might have a negative view of the political status quo, have resisted all such calls. Pundits such as the late Jonathan Philibin Bowman used to argue that allowing emigrants the vote would result in large electoral gains for Sinn Féin, which was a specious point of view as most people that emigrated from Ireland in the 1980s were no more inclined to support the Provos than those that were fortunate enough to stay at home. And even if the Shinners did enjoy a certain surge in popularity, get with it; if they were not banned from contesting the elections, people should not have been excluded from voting simply because they might have voted for them. It's called democracy, and pace Dev's infamous line, the People do have the right to do wrong.

Of course, the question of how long one should retain one's right to vote after leaving one's country is a valid one and I myself see a vote in France as possibly more pertinent given that I am unlikely to live in Ireland under the next government, whatever hue it might be. But I cannot do that without taking up French citizenship, which even if I were that bothered about doing (at the moment I don't see the point) I cannot for another three years at least. As we are now living in a Europe where we have the right to work wherever we want, and are taxed accordingly, shouldn't there be a trans-European accord to allow EU citizens living in another member state for, say, a minimum of two years, to vote in more than simply municipal and European elections? The French Communist Party, in its election manifesto, pledges to allow all immigrants, even illegal ones, to vote, though few people are banking on Marie-Georges Buffet inhabiting the Palais de l'Elysée come May. It seems absurd that in an era where Ireland is closer than ever before to the outside world, and Europe in particular, that Irish people living abroad should be stuck in an electoral no-man's land. Serves us right for leaving in the first place, I suppose.