Shiites keep parliament seats in Bahrain's elections

Winning 18 seats in the 40-member parliament


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

The Islamic National Accord Association won 18 seats in the 40-member Bahraini parliament 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 AFP.

Top Shiite cleric and MP 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," he said.

"Authority should be shared"

Before the close of campaigning, Salman openly challenged the pro-Western al-Khalifa family, a dynasty which 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 Hamad'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 Oct. 30.

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

Candidates of two allied Sunni Islamist groups, the National Islamic Forum and al-Assalah, will also contest next Saturday's vote. Three of the Forum's eight candidates lost, while the other five will run again.

Muslim Brothers

The National Islamic Forum, the local arm of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, had seven seats in the outgoing parliament, while al-Assalah which had five seats won two from the first round and is to contest another three on Saturday.

The 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 on Saturday, but senior officials dismissed the protest.

Justice Minister 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.

Eight women figured among the 127 candidates.

With Sunday'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.

A 40-member upper chamber, or consultative council, appointed by the king has the power to block legislation coming out of the lower house.


Ahead of the polls, a wave of arrests of Shiite political activists drew warnings from international human rights watchdogs of a drift back to full-blown authoritarianism.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa insisted on Saturday that the arrests were "not linked to elections."

The archipelago state was plagued in the 1990s by a wave of Shiite-led unrest which has abated since the 2001 reforms.

The latest unrest is part of discord that has simmered for decades in Bahrain: Shiites pushing for a greater political voice and the ruling Sunni dynasty trying to protect its control and place among the Sunni Arab clans that dominate the Gulf.

U.S. officials have toed a careful line. They count on Bahrain's leaders as reliable friends -- particularly for their tough stance on Iran -- but also worry that the heavy-handed tactics against perceived dissidents could leave the country sharply divided and difficult to govern.

More than 250 people have been detained in the government's crackdown since August, and Shiite protesters have fought back with sporadic street clashes and barricades of burning tires.

Next week, a highly sensitive trial begins for 23 Shiite activists accused of plotting a coup. Pro-government crews have canvassed Bahrain trying to paint over graffiti condemning the crackdown or showing stenciled images of leading opposition figures.