Pakistanis, Bangladeshis blamed for British vote-rigging

April 29th, 2008 - 12:44 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 29 (IANS) The use of Biraderis - extended clan or tribal systems - by first generation Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims as well as their political masters is helping fuel widespread rigging of postal votes and other electoral malpractices in Britain, a report said. Although the majority of those booked for electoral malpractices in Britain have been white males, the report by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, a national charity promoting democratic reform and constitutional change, says half of those convicted are Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.

The 94-page report, “Purity of Elections in Britain: Causes for Concern”, comes just three days ahead of elections to hundreds of local authorities across the provinces of England and Wales, including the city of London.

The report, published Monday, says that half of the 42 people convicted for electoral malpractice since 2000 are British Muslims, their religious identity assuming significance because of their disenchantment with the Labour party following Britain’s invasion of Iraq.

Convictions for electoral fraud have been brought against representatives of all three major parties, as well as minor parties such as the anti-immigrant British National Party.

“Significantly, these convictions of British Muslims have emerged alongside anecdotal evidence of more widespread, and long-run, practices associated with Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi traditions of Biraderi (brotherhood) clans in influencing voting behaviour,” says the report written by Stuart Wilks-Heeg, a local democracy specialist at Liverpool University.

The report says extended family and kinship networks, frequently with their origins in settlement patterns in Pakistan and Bangladesh, are mobilised to secure the support of up to several hundred electors, effectively constituting a “block vote”.

In areas such as Tower Hamlets in eastern London, such practices are frequently referred to as “village politics”.

A report by the London police’s assistant commissioner for specialist operations noted in 2006: “Anecdotally, some community contacts have remarked on how such practices that are seen as acceptable outside the UK have been adopted in respect of UK elections - for example, the head of an extended family instructing family members to vote for a particular party or candidate. Postal voting increases the risk, as the safeguard of a truly secret ballot is removed.”

The report draws a link between the biraderi system, British political parties and recent history, indicating the anti-war Respect Party’s emergence in local elections some years ago was helped by Muslim biraderi support in the aftermath of Britain’s invasion of Iraq.

It says that while British Muslims overwhelmingly voted for the Labour Party before 2003, the Iraq war “fundamentally altered this relationship”.

Each of Britain’s three main political parties - Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats - had at some stage tried to gain political advantage through “the promise of a Muslim candidate claiming to be able to ‘guarantee’ a minimum number of votes arising from their support with a wider clan”.

“As a result, accusations of electoral malpractice associated with British Muslim candidates have been made against candidates from all three main parties.”

The Biraderi system is widely thought to disenfranchise voters, given the combination of a patriarchal clan system and widespread use of postal voting, in which ballot papers are completed within the family home or, in some cases, taken to a central facility - so called ‘voting factories’ - for completion by party representatives.

“Women in particular have been disenfranchised,” said Salma Yaqoob, a Birmingham counsellor and campaigner against postal votes.

“No one can interfere with the secrecy of the polling station. A secret ballot means that loyalties to family and friends can be maintained in public, but political arguments can still win out in the real privacy of the voting booth,” she said.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, a progressive and anti-racist organisation, is demanding electoral reforms based on the system in Northern Ireland, where voters must produce photographic ID at polling stations and proof of identity when applying for a postal vote.

“The evidence continues to mount up and shows how we are desperately in need of an electoral system that robustly befits the 21st century without belying our 19th century democratic roots,” author Wilks-Heeg said.

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