As few as 15 per cent of British expatriates living in the UAE are going to vote in the upcoming UK general election on May 6.
Yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirmed the date of the general election after a 20-minute meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace to seek the dissolution of Parliament.
However, in a dipstick poll conducted by Emirates Business, a shocking 85 per cent of UAE-based Britons said they will not register to vote as they do not know how to or they believe that they will not register in time.
Mark Thompson, an Abu Dhabi-based consultant said: "I am not interested in voting as I don't really care about the election; I don't think my vote will make a difference."
Andy Burrows, a general manager in Dubai, added: "I didn't even know you could vote if you lived abroad." Cindy Potter, a graphic designer, also from Dubai, said: "I looked it up and as soon as I saw you had to post something by mail, I lost interest."
Census statistics show that 2.5 million British citizens living overseas are eligible to vote in the next general election under the 15-year rule, which allows British citizens living overseas to register to vote in the UK if they were last on an electoral roll in the UK within the past 15 years.
It is believed that the forthcoming election is expected to be the most closely fought since 1992, with Conservative leader David Cameron bidding to end 13 years of Labour Party rule and Brown attempting to gain the backing of the British public to carry on as prime minister. If, as some opinion polls suggest, neither gets enough MPs to form a majority government, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and the Welsh and Scottish nationalists could have key roles in the choice of the next government. Therefore, a hung parliament is likely.
Some British expats said they realise the importance of the vote but didn't know how to go about it. Neil McLaughlin, CEO of Emcap FX, said: "I'm happy to vote, but I've never sent a letter out of the UAE, except doing it through a courier, so I wouldn't know where to start. Make the system shorter and more people will vote… use things like the internet."
Hassan Hashish, an architect in Dubai, said: "I think that the voting procedures are out of date, and that the British government should elaborate further to try to make things easier if they really feel our inputs are valid.
"However, in my opinion, every vote counts, and it has occurred several times before that a small number of votes can make a huge difference," he said
According to the UK's Electoral Commission, expats still have three weeks to register to vote before April 20. "There is still plenty of time of expats act out on it now," an Electoral Commission spokesperson from the UK told this newspaper via telephone. "You can visit www.aboutmyvote.co.uk, where you can download the form, fill it out and send it back to us, but also register to vote by proxy so that someone can vote on your behalf in the UK," he said, citing Commission policy of not giving out names of individual spokespersons.
"At this stage, this is a better method, as you may not have time to vote by post. The person voting on your behalf can either do so at your constituency or they can send your vote by post."
Asked whether voting is available online, he replied: "It is part of the primary legislation that voting has to be on paper, so unless there is a change in law in the future, voting won't happen online."
On contacting the British Embassy in Dubai, a press officer referred to its official website ukinuae.fco.gov.uk for advice. Meanwhile, to boost voting, the Conservative party has set up a website which simplifies the registration process for expats called www.dontleaveyourvoteathome.com where you can fill out the form online.
What is a hung parliament?
A hung parliament is one in which no party has an overall majority, which means no party has more than half of MPs in the House of Commons.
If this occurs, Gordon Brown would remain in power for 18 days in order to form a viable new administration.
He is entitled to await the first meeting of the new Parliament to see if he can command the confidence of the Commons, but is expected to resign if it becomes clear he is unable to do so. Brown could also request a second dissolution of Parliament; however, it is unlikely Queen Elizabeth, who is head of state, would grant it. A party can stay in power without an absolute majority by trying to forge an alliance with a smaller party to create a coalition government. It is feared the confusion surrounding a hung Parliament could trigger a run on the pound and tip the UK back into recession.