No Asian in fray but Asians hold the key to London mayor

May 1st, 2008 - 7:20 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, May 1 (IANS) London voted Thursday to elect a mayor, with Asians holding the key to the man who will run the affairs of the world’s most ethnically diverse city for the next four years. Yet there is no Asian candidate for the job - a curious absence that has been noted by campaigners for increased ethnic minority participation in politics.

“In the capital, Asians can decide who wins or loses. But political parties have paid scant regard to finding Asian candidates,” said Ashok Viswanathan of Operation Black Vote, which is trying to encourage more political participation by London’s estimated one million ethnic minority voters.

There are some half a million ethnic Indians, including children, in the capital - comprising not only the largest ethnic group but also among the most powerful in the British capital.

Bangladeshis and Pakistanis too have a substantial presence in London. The mayoral election is seen as a key test to how parties will perform at the next general election, due in 2010.

As a result, all three main candidates for the mayor’s job - Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party and Brian Paddick of the Liberal Democrats - have assiduously courted Indians and other south Asians in the runup to Thursday’s polls.

With Livingstone, who is bidding for the third straight term, and Johnson running neck-and-neck in a knife-edge fight, the Asian vote has become all the more important in the election.

“Although there are no Asian mayoral candidates, that is not a reason to switch off and disengage. Power is never given without a demand. It’s about a revolution of the mind,” Viswanathan told IANS.

There are 10 candidates in the fray, and all are white except one - Winston McKenzie, who is a black independent candidate.

In the election for the London Assembly, also taking place Thursday, there is just one Asian candidate for the 25 seats.

The assembly helps run the city and keeps a check on the mayor.

South Asians are generally thought to prefer the Labour Party, although a large number of Indians now vote for the Conservatives, who are seen as more pro-business.

In recent years many Muslim Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have switched loyalty to the Liberal Democrats for its strong opposition to the Iraq war.

But Livingstone has won over many Muslims after moving swiftly to ensure minimum anti-Muslim backlash following the July 7, 2005, terrorist bombings which killed 52 innocent Londoners.

A group called the British Muslim Initiative publicly supports Livingstone, who also opposed Britain’s invasion of Iraq.

Similarly, Livingstone - despite his reputation as a left-wing activist - has strongly wooed and won increased Indian foreign investments in London.

More Indian tourists visited London than Japanese in 2006, spending 152 million pounds. And the British capital is home to 10,000 Indian-owned businesses.

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