A new board of directors have been elected to lead the Chamber of Commerce forward. Apart from a few new faces, the incumbent board remains largely intact. The birth of this new board; however, was a bit onerous.
Arriving at the Chamber to render my vote at 1pm, I discover that there are over 200 voters ahead of me. The speed at which the numbers were called suggested that it will be a long wait, so rather than just remaining in the ante-room, I went to have lunch with my wife in the nearby Seef Mall. I came back after lunch, some 45 minutes later, and my turn was still to come, but another 100 voters or so. This thing is going to be slow.
So like so many others, I sat back and chatted with various colleagues awaiting our turns. The hold-up was clearly not the organisation, there were many pods serving people as they came in. The hold-up was rather the penultimate step in the voting process, one that is governed by the Chamber’s own by-laws. It appears that voting must be done manually on paper, and before receiving the ballot, the voter must sign against his or her company’s membership register. Add to that the fact that each commercial registry (rather than person) is eligible to vote and that many people had multiple entities, and the fact that some eligible voters abrogated their right by assigning their vote to a block – some allege this is a prime method of buying such votes – one could easily recognise the bottleneck.
So we waited for our turn to come up. That wait; however, wasn’t without entertainment! I personally witnessed two almost-full-blown-fists-flying fights between candidates and other representatives and officials! I still am unaware of why those fights started and frankly, I wasn’t going to even attempt to find out beyond recognising the so called businessman/candidate who was seeking votes and making absolutely sure that I would not vote for him.
The papers the next morning carried several reports of alleged corruption and corrupt practices. I wasn’t privy to the alleged vote-buying. I clearly witnessed several infractions which should be noted and corrected for future elections. As Human Rights personnel were present to monitor the elections, I hope they noted them too and have raised the proper objections with the elections committee.
Here are my observations:
- 1. Candidates were milling about unhindered in the ante-room, clearly still campaigning;
- 2. Candidates supporters/family/friends were also present in the room and they too were actively campaigning for their candidate;
- 3. As every voter received a queue number, and as the wait was very long, some candidates exchanged higher numbers with lower ones, clearly attempting to influence the voting process. If someone gives you a number that will save you an hour, what would it cost you to simply tick their name, I mean you still have 17 more choices to make!
- 4. I was aghast that Kadhem Al-Saeed gained the most votes. For a first time candidate and one who has been convicted and imprisoned for harassing a minister, I find it surprising that his candidature was (a) accepted and (b) gained the most votes, even surpassing the incumbent president of the Chamber!
- 5. The other surprise is another first time candidate – Mohammed Sajid Sheikh – a controversial figure, gaining the third highest votes cast. This gentleman apparently was helped by the large Asian business community in Bahrain, but his candidature created a flurry of unsavoury accusations, least of which that he doesn’t speak Arabic properly, being Pakistani originally whose mother tongue is Urdu, and like Mr. Al-Saeed, both are alleged to have worked for months prior to the elections to buy as many votes as possible. The surprising results for both gents speak for themselves. As each candidate must be seconded by two members of the Chamber, I’m not sure what Othman Sharif and Jawad Al-Hawaj had in mind when they seconded this unsavoury gentleman, regardless of his origin and affiliation.
This brings me to my hero of the day. And that is my good friend Jassim Abdulaal, an MP of note in the first parliament in 2002 (and my tough auditor I must say) who stood up to Sheikh when the other ruffled his feathers unnecessarily at the end of the evening after the gates for casting votes have closed and his supporters complained about a lone person still to vote in the voting hall:
I’m not very optimistic that this board will actually enact any changes to the business society in Bahrain, nor can I see them creating an effective lobby to push parliament and the government to create better opportunities for businessmen and women, especially when you consider that their traditional roles have been severely curtailed by the advent of Google on one hand, and the creation of various government institutions like the EDB, Tamkeen, and others who individually and collectively do and have done a better job.
Now with at least two members of this new board buying their way in (allegedly of course), they water down the effectiveness of the board and its respect in the community.
No wonder that for the first time in its modern history, HRH the Prime Minister didn’t bother to visit them on election day.