Bahrain heads to polls without opposition candidates

Bahrain polls, without opposition candidates

DUBAI: Bahrainis headed to the polls Saturday but a ban on opposition candidates means the elections will bring no meaningful change despite a record number of people vying for seats, rights groups said.

More than 330 candidates, including a record 73 women, are competing to join the 40-seat council of representatives — the lower house of parliament that advises King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, who has ruled since his father died in March 1999.

This is up from the 293 people — including 41 women — who ran for parliament in the last election in 2018.

But the country, has barred its two main opposition groups from fielding candidates — the Shiite Al-Wefaq and secular Waad parties which were dissolved in 2016 and 2017.

“This election will not introduce any change,” said Ali Abdulemam, a UK-based Bahraini human rights activist.

“Without the opposition we will not have a healthy country,” he told AFP.

Nearly 350,000 people were eligible to vote in the polls, which opened at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT).

Yet restrictions have ignited calls for a boycott of the elections, which come more than a decade after a 2011 crackdown on Shiite-led protesters demanding political reforms.

Since then, authorities have imprisoned hundreds of dissidents — including Al-Wefaq’s leader Sheikh Ali Salman — and stripped many of their citizenship.

A hacking operation on Friday targeted the websites of parliament and the state news agency, which were restored Saturday, as well as the official elections website, which remained down as of 9:30 am (0630 GMT) local time.

The interior ministry said on Twitter the sites were “targeted to hinder the elections and circulate negative messages in desperate attempts” to discourage voting.

The identity of the hackers was not immediately clear.

Amnesty International said Thursday the vote would be held in an “environment of political repression”.

Manama insists that “the kingdom does not tolerate discrimination, persecution or the promotion of division based on ethnicity, culture or faith”.

It claims neighbouring Iran trains infiltrators and armed groups in order to topple the government — an accusation Tehran denies.

Home to 1.4 million people, Bahrain is made up of one large island and around 34 smaller ones situated off the east coast of Saudi Arabia, to which it is connected by a causeway. At just 700 square kilometres (270 square miles), it is the smallest country in the Middle East.

Located just across the Gulf from Iran, the island state is a strategic Western ally and normalised ties with Israel in 2020. It hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, with around 7,800 US military personnel deployed in the country.

In 2018, Britain opened its first permanent military base in the Middle East since 1971, near Bahrain’s capital Manama where it deploys around 300 troops.



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