Vote-buying, abuse claims overshadow Asian vote

Updated: 2013-05-02 05:02

By Agence France-Presse in Kuala Lumpur (China Daily)

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Asia's troubled soccer body elected a new leader on Thursday after a bitter campaign dominated by claim and counter-claim of outside interference, and even allegations of human rights abuses.

Two years after vote-buying accusations prompted the eventual downfall of former president Mohamed bin Hammam, the Asian Football Confederation is at risk of new controversy as delegates gather to choose his successor.

All three leading candidates for the presidency have been accused, at some point, of either corruption or allowing outside powers to meddle in the vote, tempering hopes of a new era of openness and transparency.

Vote-buying, abuse claims overshadow Asian vote

Accusations, denials and counter-claims have flown thick in recent days, lending a testy atmosphere to proceedings as representatives of the AFC's 46 members meet at a five-star hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

If the battle has been hard-fought, it's because the stakes are high: the AFC, the world's biggest soccer confederation, has significant revenues and influence across a vast region stretching from the Middle East to Oceania.

In a possible indication of the vote's importance, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who was instrumental in the spectacular fall of Hammam, is one of the prominent personalities present in the Malaysian capital.

Three main candidates are in the running to complete bin Hammam's current term, which concludes in 2015. The Qatari stepped down last year after allegations of bribery and financial wrongdoing, and is barred from soccer activities.

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa (pictured) is the favorite, but the Bahraini royal has been on the defensive over vote-buying allegations and claims he oversaw the arrest of soccer players during a crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Sheikh Salman has also hit back over comments, by disgraced former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, that he paid a British journalist to launch a smear campaign against bin Hammam when he challenged for the presidency in 2009.

The UAE's Yousef Al Serkal is also confident about his chances, and has been perhaps the most persuasive about cleaning up Asian soccer after vowing to reveal his allowances and launch a "whistle-blower" anti-corruption scheme.

Worawi Makudi of Thailand, a long-standing but controversial presence on the Asian scene, is the third serious contender. Worawi, who has faced down corruption accusations in the past, is also a bin Hammam ally.

(China Daily 05/02/2013 page22)