Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bahrain's embattled Shiites keep parliament seats

Manama (Bahrain), Oct 24 - Bahrain's embattled Shiite-led opposition held on to all of its parliament seats in weekend elections, according to official results announced today, but fell short of the majority it hoped to win as a show of strength against the island kingdom's Sunni rulers.

The leaders of the strategic US ally have waged a campaign of arrests and intimidation against suspected Shiite opponents since August, claiming they seek to undermine the ruling system and could open the door for Shiite powerhouse Iran to exert influence in the heart of the Arab Gulf.

Shiites in Bahrain say they only seek greater rights and opportunities after being shut out from key decision-making roles in the country.

The main Shiite opposition group, Al Wefaq, kept its 18 seats in the 40-member legislature. Even without a majority in yesterday's election, it could still forge alliances with liberal parties and others to eventually gain the upper hand in parliament for a symbolic slap to Bahrain's leaders.

As in the last elections, in 2006, the Shiite group said there were irregularities, including at least 890 voters being turned away from polling stations in mostly Shiite areas because their names were not on electoral lists.

There were also allegations that voting districts were gerrymandered to undercut the Shiites' numerical strength Bahrain is one of the few Arab countries with a Shiite majority, though it is ruled by a Sunni dynasty.

We really aren't satisfied with the outcome, said Al Wefaq leader Sheik Ali Salman. We are the majority of the country and a majority of the voters, but we don't get a majority of the seats. Why is that? It is clear that the government is doing this to keep us from gaining a bigger voice. We won't be satisfied until the election rules have changed.

Bahrain does not allow international election monitors.

The claims could result in challenges to the outcome and complicate hopes of cooling tensions after waves of arrests and street clashes between majority Shiites who claim widespread discrimination and the Sunni leadership seeking to maintain its grip.

Bahrain's parliament has only limited powers and can be overruled by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and his inner circle. Still, many Shiites hoped that gaining more seats would have sent a message not to ignore their demands for a greater say in how the country is run.

The king opened Bahrain's clan-based political system after taking power in 1999 and introduced the parliamentary elections, creating one of the few elected legislative bodies in the region.

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1 comment:

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