Controversial British Bangladeshi Mayor Lutfur Rahman is facing a lengthy legal battle after he was accused of fraud during last month’s local council elections.
Mr Rahman, who became Britain’s first independently elected mayor when he became head of the Tower Hamlets borough in East London in 2008, is alleged to have paid his supporters to gather at polling stations to influence voters and labelled his main rival John Biggs a racist in a bid to sabotage his chances in an area with a large Bangladeshi immigrant community.
Mr Biggs told The Times: ‘I was distressed by the accusations, which have no foundation. They were part of a cynical campaign to try to polarise community opinion.’
A High Court writ filed by a group of cross-party voters from the borough on Wednesday is now seeking to overturn Mr Rahman’s re-election on 22 May.
The Sylhet-born Mr Rahman won the election by a margin of just 3000 votes over Mr Biggs.
The writ also claims that Mr Rahman and his team sent postal votes from people who were not on the electoral roll.
The mayor denies any wrongdoing. However, if the High Court petition establishes that the election was illegal there could be a new vote and Mr Rahman faces being banned from standing in the election.
Previous allegations of electoral fraud led to Scotland Yard posting an officer at every polling station in the borough. However, no major incidents were reported.
Tower Hamlets has been plagued by accusations of corruption in the past.
Law graduate Mr Rahman controls and an all Asian cabinet at the head of the council and he has been accused of showing favouritism to members of the British-Bangladeshi community in development projects as well as diverting public funds to special interest groups, including several hard-line Muslim organizations, to win votes.
Last month, Britain’s Electoral Commission described voting in the borough as resembling “Third World Village Politics” with independent officials counting votes surrounded by “arguments, threats and chaos”.
Earlier this year Mr Rahman was also criticized for his largesse after employing a personal chauffeur at a cost to the taxpayer of £42,000.