Mon, Oct 25, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Shiites make slight gain as Bahrain goes to the polls

AFP, MANAMA

Members of the Bahraini voting committee start counting the ballots at a polling station in Isa city at the end of the voting on Saturday.

PHOTO: AFP

The main Shiite opposition group made a slender gain in Bahrain’s parliamentary poll, results showed yesterday, with their majority community demanding a greater say in the Sunni-run Gulf monarchy.

The Islamic National Accord Association (INAA) won 18 seats in the 40-member Council of Representatives of Bahrain in Saturday’s poll, the electoral commission announced.

The 18 candidates of INAA, which clinched 17 seats at the last poll in 2006, were all elected from a first round, with more than the required 50 percent of votes, commission chairman Abdullah al-Buainain told reporters.

Top Shiite cleric and lawmaker Sheikh Ali Salman hailed the results and called for a “more positive” stance from the government.

“The most important message for the government is that al-Wefaq [INAA] is the largest political association in Bahrain,” said Salman, who is also the head of INAA. “The people’s will must be respected and dealt with positively.”

Before the close of campaigning, Salman openly challenged the pro-Western al-Khalifa family, the dynasty that has ruled Bahrain since 1783, saying that authority should be shared. Bahrain’s current government has several Shiite ministers, but none of them are INAA members.

Reforms passed in a 2001 -referendum restored a parliament dissolved in 1975 and turned the emirate into a constitutional monarchy, but Bahraini King Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa’s uncle, Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, has served as prime minister ever since independence from Britain in 1971.

On Saturday, Prince Khalifa pledged to cooperate with the legislative authority, but at the same time dismissed the presence of an opposition political party in the country.

Nine seats remain up for grabs in a second round of voting on Saturday.

Two candidates from the National Democratic Action Association, an alliance of pan-Arab nationalists and leftists that failed to win seats in 2006, including a woman, Munira Fakhru, are to run in the second round.

Candidates of two Sunni Islamist groups, the National Islamic Forum and al-Assalah, will also contest next Saturday’s vote.

Sunni Islamist groups held 12 seats in the outgoing parliament, while women candidates failed to make an impression, winning only one seat, which was unopposed.

Some people complained that their names had been missing from voters’ lists, but senior officials dismissed the protest.

Bahraini Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Sheikh Khaled bin Ali al-Khalifa, head of the electoral commission, estimated turnout of “at least 67 percent,” compared with 72 percent in 2006 and 53.4 percent in 2002.

With yesterday’s results, INAA strengthens its presence in the lower house of parliament, which has the authority to examine and pass legislation proposed by the king or Cabinet and also has monitoring powers.

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