Monday, May 9, 2011

Politics

If you've been following the BBC this past week, you would know that it's been election time in the UK.
In Northern Ireland, it was time for both parliamentary and council elections.
Thankfully, unlike in the U.S., the campaigning period is only for a short period of time during which politicians put up billboards and general campaign signs around neighborhoods.
The signs put up in neighborhoods provide better dividing lines than any mural or flag. If you weren't sure before, you knew then whether you were walking through a neighborhood inclined toward Sinn Fein or the DUP.
To break that down further, let me explain the basic political party divisions in NI.
In this election for residents of East Belfast to elect 3 members of parliament, they had a choice from 17 candidates of 13 different parties.
For a full list of them, see here:
Political parties still carry a lot of unfortunate ties to the times of the Troubles. Sinn Fein is now recognized as a political party but for many years was not allowed any voice at all in Northern Ireland. (When showing footage of Gerry Adams, the BBC wouldn't actually play his own voice; they would have a BBC reporter read from a transcript of his speech.) Sinn Fein is primarily left-wing and republican.
When I asked one Protestant whether they could ever vote for a Sinn Fein candidate, even if they agreed with their left-wing politics, the response was that they could not vote for a party that invented kneecapping.
The Democratic Unionist Party likewise rose out of a side of the Troubles. As the name suggests, the party's main platform is unionism, and it's roots are primarily in right-wing, fundamentalist Protestantism. Similar to Sinn Fein, the party has had ties with Unionist and Loyalist paramilitaries through the years. Most Northern Irish political parties are similarly implicated.
The other primary parties in this election that have roots in the Troubles are the Social Democratic & Labour Party (which has a platform of reunification/ nationalism), the Traditional Unionist Voice, and the Ulster Unionist Party.
The main non-sectarian party is the Alliance Party, who did not win a seat in Westminster in a general election until May 2010.
So even though there is a diverse group of political parties to choose from, the political parties are so tied to sides of the Troubles, that one's choice is basically limited according to the community or on which side of the conflict in which one grew up.

But through all of the political happenings, life goes on in East Belfast.
The recent development have been the new murals going up along the Newtownards Road, just down the street from EBM. Here is a news article about it:

Through all of the devolved governments, power sharing treaties, and the semblance of peace, there is still so much tension, distrust, and prejudice underneath the surface of Belfast.
In peace and grace.

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