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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
'I'll think about it'
News graphic
A spin doctor might call it "encouraging progress" against the forces of apathy - the fourth candidate in Persuade Me to Vote has at least agreed to think again.

He wasn't persuaded, but Ahmad Alam has said he will reconsider his decision not to vote in the coming general election.

The 32-year-old father of two, who works as a computer scientist and lives in Manchester, was the fourth candidate in BBC News Online's Persuade Me to Vote series.

Originally he had said he would not be voting because of his disillusionment with political parties. But having heard a selection of the hundreds of your e-mails, Ahmad has pledged at least to think again.

According to some estimations, up to 13 million people will stay away from the ballot box on general election day. The figure is considered abnormally high.

Click here to read some of your arguments and Ahmad's responses.

Why I won't be voting, by Ahmad Alam:
"I'm a second-generation immigrant. My parents came from Pakistan and I was born in London. I'm British, but I am also a Muslim. I'm married and a father of two. As far as I'm aware the political parties are not tackling issues important to me and that's why I don't intend to vote.

"The asylum seekers issue has been stirred up. I've experienced violent racism and I don't want to again. The asylum 'debate' does not help minorities already present. Religious holidays are also an issue. Why are Muslims, Hindus and Jews not given religious holidays as a right? And will my children be allowed time to pray when they go to work?

I have always voted in the past. But now I don't think the parties have anything to offer me

"Anti-terrorism measures are scary to say the least. Stereotypes of immigrants in this country are powerful, and the tightening of laws seems to encourage more mistrust. There is no difference between the main parties on this and the same goes for foreign policy issues such as the Palestinian situation and that of Kashmir.

"Worst of all is the story of when we tried to get my widowed grandmother to come to Britain. It is a very sad story and the MPs I met during that process gave me the impression of being powerless.

"I have always voted in the past: first Lib Dem, then Labour. But I was young and impressionable. Now I don't think the parties have anything to offer me."

Some of your comments and Ahmad's responses:

  • Imagine if all the Muslims in this country voted. Winning the "Muslim Vote" would be pushed up the agenda just like in America where top politicians try to get the "Jewish vote". Helen Lindsay, Nottingham, England
    Ahmad: "That's not a bad point. But even if you did manage to get a few more Muslims in Parliament how much difference is that really going to make? They would still be vastly outnumbered."

    It's not a level playing field. Until it is, I'm hardly going to consider the wellbeing of others

  • Ahmad, I think Islam as a cultural phenomena is responsible for the repression of women and so will be voting to restrict the influence of Islamic law on western society. How do you feel about that? If you don't vote then my opinion may be forced upon your way of life. Martin Bentley, UK
    Ahmad: "If there is a groundswell of opinion towards what he wants, then there's not much I could do about it anyway. Ultimately, what he's trying to do is scare me into voting and that's not very appealing."

  • How about voting for policies which may benefit people other than yourself? Why consider that your vote is only useful to the nation if it can be used to benefit you personally? James Whistler, London, UK
    Ahmad: "Two points here: first of all it's my vote. Second, I don't see the playing field being level at the moment. I don't think I'm treated equally. And until I am I'm hardly going to consider the wellbeing of others, some of whom are partly responsible for creating the adverse conditions that now prevail."

    I'll wait and see about the Human Rights Act, whether it makes a difference on the ground

  • The election of a BNP candidate in the local elections in Tower Hamlets was due to local immigrants not voting because they thought it didn't matter. If you don't vote, you can be sure that someone with views utterly abhorrent to your own will. Do you really want them to speak for you? Julie, Guildford, UK
    Ahmad: "I think the Tower Hamlets situation was a result of the sheer number of BNP voters in the constituency. Again, it's a scare tactic although it makes you think. At a local level, there's no chance a BNP person will get in in my constituency anyway."

  • Governments can make a difference. For example, the new Human Rights Act guarantees religious equality so your children should be allowed to pray at work. We need thinking people like yourself to balance the views of the small number of racists who are blowing the asylum issue out of all proportion. Howard Dawber, Cheadle, UK
    Ahmad: "I don't know about a 'small' number of racists. It seems that the intolerant part of society holds sway. I'm going to wait and see about the Human Rights Act, whether it makes a difference on the ground."

    I've lost faith in a lot of public services. I'll probably send my children to private school

  • As a second generation immigrant myself, I believe Mr Alam should vote to uphold and preserve the rights of democracy that our parents came to seek from this country. He should take a better look at the political parties running in his constituency. Question the candidates running and find out what their foreign policies are. Khaled Shivji, London, UK
    Ahmad: "My parents didn't come here because Britain is a democracy. But that's a good point about finding out more about your local candidates. Maybe I should investigate that further, even though there's the old thing that your MP alone isn't going to make much difference."

  • I am relieved that you do consider you children's future at one point - but whether they can pray at work may not be as important for them as their education, the state of the health service or the transport network. John Oker, London, UK
    Ahmad: "The way I see it, Labour hasn't made any difference to these 'core' services anyway. Besides, I've lost faith in a lot of public services. I've gone private with health care and will probably send my children to private school."

  • He is obsessed with sectarian issues arising from his faith. Does he not pay tax, use the NHS and the education system? I would think these issues should affect him just like any other elector. Pete Whitehead, London, UK
    Ahmad: "I don't think that asking for two holidays in place of Christmas and Easter and wanting to pray at work is sectarian. As for tax, I'm not particularly bothered about how much tax I pay. It's never influenced my vote in the past.

    Ahmad's verdict: "I have been swayed, not to vote but to think again. I'm more undecided now than I was before. Perhaps there's a lot of racists out there who will vote and I should use my vote against them. I'll also find out more about my candidates locally. I'm more borderline now."


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