Reflections on the right to vote (from Asia)

Asia is a strange place to live while keeping up with the EU referendum debate, because it reminds me of something. The right to vote, to have a say in how your country is run and who should be running it, is not universal. Which, of course, everyone knows. We’re told until we’re blue in the face before any election. But, when you’re living in a country that passed a law allowing for imprisonment of those who express a strong opinion for or against a draft constitution, it really brings it home.

Even more incredibly, what the British people chose on June 23rd will be respected. By the EU, by the respective campaigns, by the U.K. Government. Again, this is far from a certainty in other parts of the world.

Instead, what you’re likely to hear from the group who have the most power to swing this referendum are statements and questions like: why should they care? Nothing will change. It’s not interesting. How does politics impact them?

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Let me tell you, it’s hard to justify these reasons when you’re speaking to a Cambodian tuk-tuk driver, close to tears when he discusses his country’s history and current Government. While Cambodia has the right to vote, it’s somewhat of a theoretical suffrage, given that Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, has been in power since 1985.

So I’m not going to justify them. If you have the right and ability to vote in this upcoming referendum, and you aren’t planning on heading to the polls, you should really be asking yourself why. Politics affects literally everything you do, determining how you can live your life; where you can work; who you can marry; what you can say; how much you earn; the ability to buy certain products; where you go on holiday. Are you seriously saying you don’t have a single opinion on any of this?

Of course the system isn’t perfect. I’m a left wing feminist (almost) socialist liberal. I’m far down the list of people who fully support and endorse the system at Westminster or Brussels. However, if you have the opportunity to have your say, you should take it, because people have died for this thing you take for granted. People across the world have fought and cried and sacrificed for this thing that you might have decided isn’t worth bothering with.

David Mitchell said the decision about whether the U.K should remain in the E.U isn’t a matter for the general public to decide, given we already voted for a majority party. This isn’t right either. Just because you voted once doesn’t mean you should disengage, especially when you’re being handed the opportunity to have your say. And for those who think their vote won’t make a difference,  The Independent showed that for the last General Election, if everyone who didn’t vote had voted for a specific party, it would have held the majority in the House of Commons. That means a different Prime Minister’s, different laws, and perhaps no referendum at all. 

Our ability to debate openly, freely, to write, to vote, all of these things and more, should be given a much higher status than they currently are in our society. And perhaps we are apathetic because we are extraordinarily lucky. These are things we have been born with, things we are entitled too. Yet, you only need to to take a cursory glance across the news to realize these rights are rare and precious, and far from guaranteed. Which is all the more reason to protect them, respect them and exercise them.