Watchdogs pledge vote-buying clamp [Gulf Daily News (Bahrain)]
(Gulf Daily News (Bahrain) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ELECTION watchdogs have pledged to crack down on allegations of vote-buying, with candidates already being accused of bribery.
It has been claimed that some candidates have been distributing "gifts" to their constituents during their weekly majlises.
Some have been allegedly offering cash, discount vouchers and even fridges in return for people's vote.
The National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) said it will "closely monitor" election campaigns to eliminate electoral fraud.
"This is illegal and punishable," said NIHR vice-chairman and complaints, monitoring and follow-up committee head Dr Abdulla Al Deerazi.
"But as of now, the elections are yet to be officially announced and hence these could remain only allegations.
"So now the candidates can say that it is part of a gift or any other courtesy gesture, but once the election dates are official it is illegal.
"Candidates whose names are on the registered lists will be held accountable for any such allegations.
"We have had similar cases in the past - in 2002, 2006 and 2010."
Bahrain Transparency Society president Abdulnabi Al Ekri said offering gifts to potential voters was a form of corruption.
"This is corruption and manipulation," he told the GDN.
"Giving gifts is one form of corruption and for that matter any form of gift, be it even in the form of promises, is corruption.
"This cannot be called tradition and by giving them away in majlises, these candidates are manipulating tradition.
"Manipulating traditional Ramadan majlises for election propaganda is not compliant with regulations.
"Culture and tradition is giving away gifts to small children to celebrate the joy of the season, not giving gifts to adults with some expectations in return."
Activist Mohammed Fadhul, who will contest the polls in the Southern Governorate, claimed he was offered gift vouchers to an electronic store owned by one of the candidates.
"My son was given three gift vouchers which offer BD20 less on any electronic item purchased from an electronic shop," he told the GDN.
"He was told to give the vouchers to his father, and he did that.
"Later when I attended a majlis of one of the citizens who had recently announced his candidacy from the Southern Governorate I saw the same vouchers being distributed.
"At the majlis all those who attended were given countless vouchers, including myself, which I rejected.
"Surprisingly, it was only me who refused to take it, while the candidate said that it was just a gift and culture of the country.
"I have seen others taking the vouchers and they too accepted the same saying it was a 'culture'.
"Personally, I disagree that this is a culture, instead, I firmly feel it is unethical.
"This is influencing voters, which is not the right way to fight a fair election.
"As a people's representative, one should convince his voters that he is capable of being their voice and thus gain their votes.
"By offering gifts, you are simply buying votes."
He alleged that majority of the people living in his area told him that distribution of gifts by candidates was "nothing new".
"They spoke of instances in the past where candidates had offered refrigerators and air conditioners to voters," he added.
"It is a pity if this was the case and it should not be repeated."
However, the candidate in question said the vouchers were part of his store's Ramadan campaign, adding it was "normal" for presents to be distributed during traditional majlises.
"I run an electronics business and the vouchers were part of our Ramadan sales and have nothing to do with the election," said the businessman, who could not be named for legal reasons.
"The weekly majlis is a culture in Bahrain and I am yet to officially confirm my candidacy; moreover, elections are not officially announced yet.
"I agree it is wrong to bribe voters and I haven't done that."
The GDN earlier reported that the NIHR will register complaints in the run-up to the national polls - due to be held in November - with case officers assigned to investigate any violations reported by either voters or candidates.
Complaints can be filed online via the NIHR's website at www.nihr.org.bh, by e-mail to email@example.com or by calling 17111666.
In previous years, the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, Bahrain Transparency Society, Bahrain Human Rights Society and other groups have also monitored the election process and released reports highlighting a string of violations.
The GDN in 2010 reported on allegations of bribery a month before the parliamentary and municipal elections with candidates offering constituents fridges, air conditioners and other gifts in return for their vote.
Election rules stipulate that any candidate trying to bribe voters will be reported to the Public Prosecution. firstname.lastname@example.org
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