It appears to be the UK's closest election for decades, but the vast majority of Britons living in the UAE are missing out on having their say. Only 30,559 registration forms for overseas voting have been downloaded worldwide from the UK Electoral Commission website since its registration campaign began on March 15.
About 15,000 British nationals living overseas were registered to vote on that date, from an expatriate population of about 5.5 million, including more than 100,000 in the UAE. Political parties have been encouraging overseas voters to register. A handful of votes in a handful of constituencies could make a significant difference as the British parliament uses a first-past-the-post electoral system.
"This is a tight-fought election and every vote counts," said a spokesman for Conservatives Abroad. The precise number of overseas voters will not be known for several months. Once the form is downloaded it can be printed several times, so download figures give only a rough indication of the number registering. Some forms may have been delayed by the volcanic ash cloud, which disrupted airmail during the registration period. The deadline for postal vote applications passed on April 20, and for proxy votes on April 27.
Some people have criticised a complicated registration system and a lack of electronic voting. In the 2008 US election, 69 per cent of voters living abroad cast a ballot, far outstripping British overseas voters. In the last UK general election, in 2005, just 18,000 overseas votes were cast. Geraldine Chell, who lives in Sharjah and works for the Higher Colleges of Technology, said she was not aware she could vote from overseas.
"I have just never realised that you could do a postal vote and in all honesty don't keep up with politics so wouldn't know who to vote for anyway," she said. "I feel very ignorant in admitting this." Stephen Board, 26, a UAE resident, said he had registered by proxy and believed it was important to vote, as government policies affected citizens overseas. "It goes without saying that foreign affairs are important to all Brits abroad, especially the ones on possible expat taxation," he said. "Britain's foreign policy also has an effect on the way the British and British companies are seen abroad, which affects us all." firstname.lastname@example.org