Bahrain: Parliamentary candidates who “cheat” their way to victory through buying votes could face up to three years in jail and BD3,000 fines under amendments approved by the Shura Council.
The same penalty would apply to government officials, civil servants, clergymen and municipal councillors who misused their posts to promote themselves or other election candidates.
Some candidates have previously been accused of offering bribes to win their seats, for example by distributing air-conditioning units to constituents in return for votes.
The maximum penalty for “improper campaigning” is currently just BD100, but this is only if a candidate can produce evidence of such activity against a competitor.
Meanwhile, there is no definition explaining what constitutes such an offence.
The tougher punishments are included in amendments to the 2002 Shura Council and Parliament Law, which will now be drafted as a bill by the Cabinet before referred back to the National Assembly within six months.
“Unworthy candidates cheat their way into parliament seats, which they hold undeservedly for four years,” said legislative and legal affairs committee vice-chairman Khamis Al Rumaihi, who was among those spearheading the amendments.
“Bahrain has a fair election system, but wrongful activity by several candidates and their supporters who offer bribes influences the outcome and proper candidates lose out.
“No one is against campaigning using billboards, in the local Press, through brochures or flyers – it is giving gifts in cash or kind that is utterly wrong.”
Shura Council member Darwish Al Mannai accused MPs who swapped gifts for votes of weakening Bahrain’s parliament and its democratic process.
“Bribes get those who are not capable elected,” he said.
“This affects the quality of those in parliament, leading to doubts about the decisions it takes and how work is conducted behind the scenes.”
Shura Council human rights committee chairman Ahmed Al Haddad said the existing rules meant there could be no level playing field for parliamentary candidates.
“Good quality candidates who do not have the finances to offer bribes miss out,” he said.
Meanwhile, Shura Council member and former MP Sawsan Taqawi said she had personally witnessed candidates offering lavish incentives for people to vote for them.
“Such behaviour has to be stopped with severe punishment,” she said.
“I understand the fine won’t matter to those who spend thousands to get votes, but the jail sentences will ensure justice is served.”
However, the amendment was ridiculed by Shura Council public
utilities and environment committee chairman Fouad Al Haji, who argued that offering gifts was a part of Arab culture.
“Everyone has the same agenda when campaigning,” he said.
“It is all down to the banquets and gifts that are given out to voters.
“It is not a bribe and it is not against the rules, as there is no service provided in return.
“So what if people are given what they need in return for their votes?”
Last month, the Shura Council approved amendments to the 2002 Political Rights Law, including penalties of two years in jail and fines of up to BD2,000 for seeking to undermine parliamentary elections through foul play.
It criminalises the addition or deletion of names from electoral lists; stealing, hiding or tampering with ballot papers; preventing voters from reaching electoral centres through demonstrations or threats; voting multiple times by falsifying documents; and attempting to smear a candidate through false information.
That amendment will be ratified by His
Majesty King Hamad after being approved by parliament.
If those committing the crimes are in some way involved in the election, the punishment could be three years in jail and a fine of up to BD3,000.