Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bahrain to the urns in election boycotted by the opposition

Bahraini protestors hold signs calling for a boycott of the parliamentary elections, during a rally in the Shiite village of Diraz, west of Manama on November 21, 2014
Protesters against the elections in the Shi'ite village of Diraz, west of Manama (Photo AFP)

Bahrainis voted on Saturday in the first parliamentary elections since 2011 when large crowds, most Shi'ites,  took to the streets demanding more democracy. Some 419 candidates are running, 266 for parliament and 153 for municipal councils in the kingdom. But the elections were boycotted by the Shi'ite Muslim opposition over accusations that constituency changes would still favor the Sunni Muslim minority which is represented by the royal family of Al-Khalifa.
The opposition maintains that the new parliament will not have enough power and that voting districts still favor Sunnis despite some recent electoral changes. The opposition wants a "real" constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister independent from the Al-Khalifa family. But the Saudi-backed Sunni dynasty that rules over the majority Shiite kingdom has rejected the demand.
Bahrain has been shaken by unrest since the February 2011 demonstrations and the Shi'ite minority has long complained of political and economic marginalization. Reconciliation talks between the royal Al-Khalifa family and the opposition revived early this year, but stalled after the prosecution of a number of opposition officials. In October, a court banned Al-Wafaq, the main opposition party,for three months for violating a law on associations. Al-Wafaq is boycotting the elections along with three other groups.
Despite the boycott, polling stations were busy in the mostly Sunni Riffa district south of Manama. In the Shi'ite village of Sanabis to the west of Manama, however, rocks were scattered in the street in an attempt to block traffic and prevent voters from reaching polling stations. In Sitra, a village east of Manama, plumes of smoke rose in the sky as residents burnt tyres.
Al Wafaq won 18 out of 40 parliamentary seats in a 2010 election, but it pulled out of parliament a year later during a crackdown against mostly Shi'ite Muslim protesters.

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