There have been extensive debates on migration and development, but one central topic has often been neglected: democratic development and participation. A workshop on “Claiming our voices, claiming our right of suffrage” during the Peoples Global Action (PGA) in Stockholm was a first step to address this shortcoming. Maybe the most obvious result was that
there is a confusing plethora of options of regulations regarding migrant absentee voting. Participants had the opportunity to exchange their experiences with these different regulations, but it also became obvious that quite often migrants are not even aware of the options regarding
- Voting in their country of origin while being abroad
- Options to vote in the country they stay in
To complicate things even more, according to one of the workshop organisers, Ellene Sana, the UN convention on the rights of migrant workers and their families grants voting rights only to documented workers. Again, there are two levels; for once you have no option to vote in the destination country if you are undocumented, but your status may also deny you the option of absentee voting because the registration process might require legal papers, a permanent address etc.
Nonoi Hacbang from the Transnational Migrant Platform (TMP) in Amsterdam, who was one of the main advocates for the Philippines Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) Bill, described the campaign as a fight for empowerment. But it became also clear that migrants in Europe who plan to stay long-term or permanently are not that interested in OAV, as the Swedish Filipino migrants present at the workshop reported. In addition, the process is quite time-consuming since you have to vote at the embassy which might be a long trip away. In contrast, places such as Hong Kong which are not only fairly compact but are the destinations for temporary contract labour migrants with no option for the right to abode, have seen much larger OAV outcomes. Taiwan is the destination of many Filipino migrant domestic workers as well, but as was reported by local migrant organizers, since they do not receive one weekly day off it will be almost impossible for them to cast their vote. E-voting might be an option to enable this migrants to cast their vote.
There are many more aspects related to this issue: citizenship; one (wo)man, one vote?; a quota for parliament members representing migrants such as in Italy; migrant voting at the municipal level etc. While migrants may consider other issues more pressing, in terms of empowerment and representation this issue was still considered important by the participants. Thus, while it was the last workshop of the day (and running dangerously close to the start of the Eurovision Song Contest 😉 it was well worth staying and the topic should be picked up at future PGA meetings. (and maybe the GFMD Civil Society days – one can dream…)
P.S. At the start of the session, I provided a brief input based on our research project “Democratization through migration?”, discussing democratic aspects beyond voting ranging from democratic attitudes to becoming politically active and start to organize etc. An article presenting our initial research findings can be freely downloaded here:
Rother, Stefan (2009): Changed in Migration? Philippine Return Migrants and (un)-democratic remittances, in: European Journal of East Asian Studies, Vol. 8 (2), pp. 245-274.
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