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Brazil: The UK Vote
By Mark Hillary
March 8, 2011

I just moved from London to Brazil at the end of last year. I‘ve managed to negotiate my way through the various cartorios to the point where I now have my permanent residency stamp, my CPF card, and my first bank account. Not bad going for the first few weeks of the year. But one thing eludes me, my right to vote back in the UK.

I downloaded the forms I need from the Electoral Commission website. That‘s all easy enough. But I need a witness to watch over me as I sign the documents and that person has to be a British passport holder. Suddenly I realised that I don‘t know a single British person in São Paulo.

Initially I thought that this is not a big deal. I‘ll meet some Brits soon, as I get more integrated into life here, and there is no big election coming up - the general election was only last year.

Then I remembered that the biggest referendum since the 1975 public vote on whether to stay in the EEC is about to take place. On May the fifth, British voters are going to vote yes or no to a proposal introduced by the Liberal Democrat tranche of the coalition government to introduce an Alternative Vote (AV) system.

It sounds dull. Voting systems usually are. And it‘s not the full system of proportional representation that the Lib Dems really wanted. It‘s a sort of fudge that the Conservatives allowed their partner to get; one of the larger crumbs that fell from the Conservative table into the lap of their partner. But it‘s an important crumb.

The British first-past-the-post voting system has always been flawed. It disenfranchises millions of people who cast a vote for one party and find it is entirely wasted - for instance if you support Labour, yet live in a staunchly Conservative area. You can still stand up and vote, but only the winner is counted - not the underlying votes for any of the losing candidates.

AV does not fix this, but it does allow voters to be more tactical by indicating their first, second, or third choice for a candidate. Once a winner is confirmed, the votes for losers are still discarded, but at least there is a chance that the electorate can vote more closely for who they really want, rather than voting tactically for a third party because they know their preferred candidate has no chance in their town.

It seems that most British people are indifferent at present. That‘s understandable because with unemployment going up, prices going up, and no recovery in economic growth, who cares about tinkering around with the electoral system?

But it‘s worth paying some attention, whether it is to support this as a step forward or to vote against it because it does not go far enough. I think that our system of electing parliamentary representatives is something worthy of an opinion - either way.

The vote is just a couple of months away. If I register now, perhaps I have a chance of ensuring that my postal vote will carry some minor significance back at Ealing Town Hall. So if there is a Brit in São Paulo who fancies a pint and a chat about life over here then I‘d be happy to buy a round - provided you sign my electoral registration papers!

Mark Hillary is a writer with several books on globalisation to his name, including ‘Global Services‘ and ‘Who Moved my Job?‘ He blogs for Reuters,, and Computer Weekly in the UK and runs a magazine focused on the Brazilian technology industry ( Mark has been based in São Paulo since December 2010.

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