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ELECTIONS

Britain to allow ALL citizens living abroad the right to vote

The British government said on Friday it will scrap the 15-year rule that had barred many British voters living abroad from casting a ballot in general elections back home.

Britain to allow ALL citizens living abroad the right to vote
Photo: AFP

The UK government said on Friday that the rule that has barred British nationals from voting if they have lived abroad for over 15 years, will be scrapped in time for the 2020 election.

The government published its intention to ditch the unpopular law, which Britons living abroad have long fought against, by publishing a policy statement titled “Democracy that works for everyone”.

“We believe that overseas electors contribute to British society and should be given that democratic right to vote,” the constitution minister Chris Skidmore said.

“We intend to give those overseas electors the chance to register quickly and securely so they will be able to register to vote in time of the 2020 election.”

 

Writing in The Telegraph newspaper Skidmore said: “Being British is about so much more than simply being resident in the UK.

“It doesn’t matter where they live, British citizens are still a part of British society, retaining strong cultural and social ties with their families at home and helping to build businesses abroad,” writes Skidmore.

“The decisions that are made on British shores impact our citizens around the world and indeed many plan to return to live here in the future,” he added.

The Conservative government had pledged to scrap the rule as a pre-election promise but many long-term expats living in the EU were left angered when it became clear the government would not push through the change before the crucial referendum.

Indeed the sentiment among many British nationals abroad on Friday was that the announcement had come too late.

“I would have been delighted. Just a few months ago I would have been ecstatic, but now, faced with the impending loss of my EU citizenship and associated rights, the triumph has lost some savour,” said The Local reader Yvonne Flavin.

Nevertheless those British citizens who had long campaigned against the injustice were happy at Friday’s announcement.

“This is great news,” says France-based Brian Cave. “We are nearly there. We shall vote at the next General Election. All those who have taken part in this long campaign will know that it was worth it and as we kept saying: ‘we will win because we are right’.

“Winston Churchill would have said: ‘This is not the end, but it could be the beginning of the end,'” said Cave.

The government will now draw up a bill which must be given the green light by parliament, but all being well all Britons abroad should be able to cast a vote in 2020. 

The next question is will they give Brits abroad our own MPs?

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ELECTIONS

Catalan separatists boost majority in regional election

Catalan separatist parties boosted their parliamentary majority in a regional election Sunday that was overshadowed by the pandemic and marked by low turnout, more than three years after a failed bid to break away from Spain.

Catalan separatists boost majority in regional election
Jailed ERC leader Oriol Junqueras (R), freed temporarily to participate in the electoral campaign, celebrates result with Catalan acting regional president and ERC candidate Pere Aragones. Photo: AFP
With Spain still grappling with a third wave of coronavirus infections, the vote in the wealthy northeastern region was held under tight restrictions to reduce the risk of contagion.
 
With 99 percent of the votes counted, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists won the most votes but the three separatist parties together were set to get 74 seats in the 135-seat assembly.
 
That is up from 70 seats won in the last election in December 2017, just months after Catalonia's failed secession bid which led to the jailing of several separatist leaders.
 
To reduce the risk of virus transmission in the region, polling stations were set up in spacious venues like food markets, the area around FC Barcelona's football stadium and the bullring in Tarragona.
 
Voters had to wear face masks, use disinfectant gel provided at polling stations and stand apart while lining up in rainy weather to cast their ballots.
 
During the last hour of voting, which was reserved for people infected with Covid-19, polling station workers wore gloves, facial screens and white protective gowns.
 
The Socialists had 33 seats, up from 17 in the last vote when they finished fourth.
 
Sanchez had hoped the election — Catalonia's fifth in a decade — would end separatist rule in the region which accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy.
 
He fielded his health minister Salvador Illa as his candidate in the hope that his high profile in the fight against the pandemic would help win votes.
 
While separatist parties have been deeply divided over strategy since the failed secession bid, they were not punished by voters and for the first time won over 50 percent of the vote, against 47.5 percent four years ago.
   
The more moderate ERC got 33 seats, the hardline JxC got 32 and the radical CUP nine seats.
 
 
'Amnesia' jibe
 
The result leaves the ERC's main candidate, 38-year-old jurist Pere Aragones, best placed to become Catalonia's next leader.
 
“We have stopped an operation by the (Spanish) state to expel separatists from institutions,” he said after the results were announced.
 
Illa had argued it was “time to turn the page” after over a decade of Catalan nationalists governments focusing on separatism but Aragones dismissed his approach during the campaign as “amnesia”.
 
He has said his party would not turn the page while independence leaders remained in jail over the failed secession bid.
 
Catalonia is currently governed by a coalition led by JxC, which is prone to confrontation with Madrid, and the ERC, which is open to dialogue and has helped Sanchez's minority government pass laws at the national level.
 
 
'We are afraid'
 
The anti-coronavirus measures appeared to discourage people from voting.
 
While some 5.5 million people were eligible to vote, turnout was a record low at 54.4 percent, down from almost 80 percent in the last election.
 
“I hesitated until the last minute whether to come vote or not,” Cristina Caballero, a 34-year-old child educator, told AFP at a Barcelona polling station.
 
“I think these elections should have been postponed.”
 
The regional government tried to put off the election until the end of May because of the pandemic but the courts blocked that move.
 
While more than 40 percent of the 82,000 people assigned to help staff polling stations on the day had asked to be recused, all polling stations were operating normally as of noon, according to the Catalan government.
 
Still, some people picked for polling station duty expressed concern.
 
“Of course we are afraid, I just had cancer and am still on sick leave, but I was called up,” Eva Vizcaino, a 54-year-old office worker, told AFP at a Barcelona polling station.
 
“The last hour is especially frightening, when people with Covid come.”
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