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Europe's Minority Politicians in Short Supply

"I'm not going to deny my roots," he said. But "I see myself primarily as a Dutch politician, with special antenna into the Turkish community."

Black Votes in Britain

In the United States, all of the black members of the House of Representatives are Democrats and virtually all come from majority-black districts.


Paul Boateng, Britain's chief secretary to the treasury, is Britain's first black cabinet minister. He says constituents see beyond the question of his race. (Keith Richburg -- The Washington Post)

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But in European countries, there are few majority non-white districts. In many countries, members of parliament are elected from a party list, by which seats are apportioned according to a nationwide vote total. The result is that minority candidates must appeal for everyone's vote.

"You don't get elected in Britain on black votes alone," said Diane Abbott, one of the 13 black members of the British House of Commons, which has 659 seats.

Along with Paul Boateng, Abbott was one of four minority candidates who were placed on the Labor Party slate and came to office in the 1987 elections in Britain, after urban race riots across the country highlighted the lack of black and minority representation in politics.

Boateng, who was appointed to the treasury post by Prime Minister Tony Blair, said British voters tended to vote based on party affiliation.

In his district, Brent South, where a mix of ethnic groups form a majority, he has seen his support rise steadily in recent elections; many of the votes were cast by Asians. "All evidence is that race was not an issue," he said.

Now, as Britain's highest-ranking black elected official, Boateng said his constituents see beyond the question of his race, even while he continues to speak out on questions of social justice.

"The Afro-Caribbean minority expects one to represent the whole community," he said in an interview. "They don't expect me, as a member of Parliament or as a cabinet minister, to be defined by my pigmentation."

Still, Ashok Viswanathan of Operation Black Vote, a political mobilization group, said as next month's national elections approach that his group has identified 100 parliamentary districts "where candidates cannot win without black votes." With numbers showing that a quarter of minority voters are not registered, he is hoping to get more to sign up.

Viswanathan said he hoped to see the number of black members in Parliament rise to 22. But with an estimated 7 million minority residents in Britain, he said, Parliament probably will not be truly representative until there are 55 to 60 minority members.

Viswanathan, and many of the black and minority politicians interviewed in a half-dozen countries, said they looked to the United States for inspiration, particularly on the local level.

"It's very important to have representative politics -- not only minorities, but age and sex," said Sherifay in Stockholm. "We need to have a strategy and learn from the United States."

Researchers Erika Lorentzsen and Alexandra Topping in Paris and Shannon Smiley in Berlin contributed to this report.


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