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Fears 'village politics' may sway result of city elections.

Byline: By Paul Dale Public Affairs Editor

Election fraud driven by immigrants practising "village politics" of the Indian sub-continent could be a crucial factor in deciding the future control of Birmingham City Council, a major report warns today.

Family loyalties, the dominance of men and the existence of the "biraderi" clan system among British Asians provides perfect conditions for widespread rigging of postal votes and other electoral malpractice in Britain's major cities, according to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. In a 94-page report called Purity of Elections in the UK - Causes for Concern, the trust argues that the UK's election system is close to breaking point and at risk of fraud, as the countdown to May's local elections gets underway.

The study says the turning point in recognising Britain has a problem with election fraud came in 2005 when a court found six Birmingham Labour Party members in Aston and Bordesley Green, all Asian men, guilty of tampering with thousands of postal ballots.

The incident, which Elections Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC said would "disgrace a banana republic", forced the Government to tighten regulations surrounding postal voting, but the reforms were nowhere near tough enough according to the authors of today's report.

They say: "The Birmingham election court of 2005 demonstrates that the control of a major city council or the outcome of a parliamentary contest could be influenced by the scale of fraud that was rendered possible by postal voting."

The study says numerous convictions for electoral fraud since 2000, when postal votes first became freely available on demand, resulted from incidents in inner-city wards where a large concentration of voters originate from the Indian sub-continent.

It adds: "Significantly, these convictions have emerged alongside anecdotal evidence of more widespread, and long-run, practices associated with Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi traditions of biraderi (brotherhood) clans influencing voting behaviour.

"It is widely suggested that 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."

Evidence of family pressure to behave in a certain way emerged at the recent Aston election petition hearing when potential witnesses said they were afraid to come to court. Several had to be ordered to attend by a judge.

All of the main political parties have sought at times to gain advantage by allying themselves to a Muslim candidate claiming to be able to guarantee a minimum number of votes arising from their support within a wider clan, the study adds. The document quotes Birmingham city councillor Salma Yaqoob, who has warned that Muslim women are in danger of being disenfranchised.

Coun Yaqoob (Respect Sparkbrook) said: "It is for the reasons that biraderi networks can exert undue influence that we have been campaigning vigorously in Birmingham against postal votes. Postal votes are filled out in the privacy of one's home. But it is not private when family members, candidates or supporters, can influence subtly or otherwise the way you complete your vote."

Calling for all voting to take place in polling stations, Coun Yaqoob added: "A secret ballot means loyalties to family and friends can be maintained in public, but political arguments can still win out in the privacy of the voting booth".

The report concludes that Government attempts to raise turnout at elections by allowing everyone to have a postal vote has "without doubt dented public confidence in the electoral system".

Many councils are said to have incomplete and inaccurate electoral registers and the integrity of UK elections "falls well short of international standards".

There is also criticism of political parties for attempting to "buy" elections by pouring money into campaigns in marginal seats.

The Midlands Industrial Council, a group of Tory-supporting businessmen and women, gave pounds 376,000 to 26 constituencies before the 2005 General Election campaign. The money enabled the Conservatives to register higher than average swings in the chosen seats, the report claims.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust is demanding reforms to the electoral system based on regulations in Northern Ireland, where every voter must produce photographic ID at polling stations and must produce proof of identity when applying for a postal vote.

"It is widely suggested that extended family and kinship networks . . . are mobilised to secure the support of up to several hundred electors, effectively constituting a block vote

Rowntree survey

paul.dale@birminghampost.net
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 28, 2008
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