INSPECTORS will for the first time monitor elections to the board of Bahrain’s main private sector body, following allegations that previous polls had been marred by vote buying.
The allegation was aired yesterday during an open meeting of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) elections committee.
One businessman who attended yesterday’s meeting told participants that he had personally witnessed BCCI candidates bribing voters with cash during the last election in 2014.
“In the 2014 BCCI elections there were irregularities outside the voting hall and they paid BD20 to Asian businessmen to vote for specific candidates,” said Marsim Bahrain managing director Abdulkarim Al Fulaij.
“I reported the violation to the election committee, but no action was taken.”
He also questioned why some candidates spent thousands of dinars on their campaigns.
“We see many candidates spending over BD20,000 on their election campaign and I wonder why they spend so much, when board membership is a voluntary service to the community,” he said.
“They say it’s a prestigious position, but I disagree because that is not what the position is meant for.
“It is meant to serve and, unfortunately, the previous board did not do that.”
Elections committee member Nada Ahmadi told the GDN that efforts were being taken to prevent practices such as vote buying this year.
“The concern of such malpractices, like vote buying at the election venue, has been brought to our attention,” she said. “We cannot comment on what happened before, but we can assure that we will strictly monitor all areas of the election venue this time.
“We will be seeking additional inspectors from the Industry, Commerce and Tourism Ministry and the Interior Ministry to be present at the venue, especially the registration area.”
Yesterday’s meeting, chaired by committee head Jassim Abdul A’al at the at the BCCI headquarters, in Sanabis, was attended by candidates and businessmen eligible to vote.
This year all Commercial Registration (CR) holders are eligible to vote, but they must present their CPR card or passport.
However, the use of mobile phones and other devices will be banned inside the voting centre.
“Anyone can carry their mobiles in their pockets or bags, but they will not be allowed to use them to make calls or take pictures inside the voting area,” she said.
“Violation will disqualify the voter.”
More than 50,000 eligible voters have registered to cast their ballot on March 10, with the final list due to be published on the BCCI’s website today.
The election will determine the BCCI’s 18-member board for the next four years and candidates must register for the polls between February 23 and March 4.
News of tighter monitoring at this year’s election comes after one coalition, the 16-member Sharaka bloc, claimed it was the victim of a smear campaign targeting its member Sajid Shaikh.
It follows the circulation of a four-minute audio recording, in which a woman apparently speaking on behalf of the bloc offers incentives to a potential voter in return for their support.
Mr Shaikh denied wrongdoing and said he was pursuing legal action against those responsible.
Other groups contesting the polls are the 15-member Tojjar 2018 coalition, the 12-member Al Ghad (Tomorrow) bloc and the Central Business Owners Committee.
Khalil Al Qaheri, Dr Yousif Mahsal, Feryal Nass, Mahmood Namliti, Ahlam janahi and Huda Radhi are the independent candidates so far.