Expat voters with representatives could change the world

Published:  19 Oct at 6 PM
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Over the last five decades, the number of expats living abroad has soared to 250 million, but almost all have no effective political representation back in the home country.

Whilst it might seem illogical that citizens who’ve opted to spend many years overseas should have a say in the politics of the home country, the last few years have shown how necessary this is. Across the world, recent elections and one referendum have brought in disastrous changes which would possible not have happened should expat opinions and their votes been part of the political agenda. After all, the vast numbers of expatriates add up to more than the entire population of a good number of smaller countries as well as the residents in major US states.

Although 72 per cent of nations worldwide allow expat voting in some form, few acknowledge the massive diaspora as a separate entity deserving of its own political representatives. It’s possible the perception of expats as having lost all interest on their home countries’ development may have spread to include the idea that expats don’t have needs and opinions of value about major changes to their security as residents of another country. For expats, the foreign policy in their home countries may be the opposite of what they, as overseas residents, see as positive political developments.

Traditionally, a change in Moscow’s attitudes has affected Russian expats as regards employment, business and travel, and the USA is now living with the fallout from Trump’s boorish image and obstructive foreign policies. As regards voting, most countries link expat voters to the constituency of their past address, whose MPs haven’t the foggiest idea how expat voters think or what they need. Diasporas tend to vote in a totally differently manner than those still resident in their countries of birth, perhaps due to the ‘distance doesn’t lend enchantment’ syndrome caused by integration into a different culture.

The Brexit referendum is a perfect example, with an estimated vast majority of UK expats overseas voting to remain. Unless, of course, they’d lived overseas for more than 15 years, at which point they were disenfranchised. In addition, the percentage of the expat ‘remain’ vote was far higher than that of UK citizens who chose that option. It’s certain that diasporas could swing elections should they be empowered to do so by allocating them their own Senators or MPs.

Taking Brexit as an example again, some 135,000 expat Brits registered to vote specifically to take part in the referendum, making the expat voter total some 264,000. Leave won with a 1.3 million margin, but five million British-born expats are living abroad. That’s how important it is for all expats living overseas to have their own representation in their home countries, voted in by those who have the most to lose and still care about their country of birth.
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