x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Monitoring groups say Bahrain election was 'acceptable'

Although the overall electoral system is unfair, Saturday's parliamentary election was "procedurally acceptable", the head of an election-monitoring group say.

Members of the Bahraini voting committee start counting the ballots at a voting station in Isa city after the polls close.
Members of the Bahraini voting committee start counting the ballots at a voting station in Isa city after the polls close.

MANAMA // Although the overall electoral system is unfair, Saturday's parliamentary election was "procedurally acceptable", the head of an election-monitoring group said yesterday.

"There are reservations on the electoral system as a whole," said Abdulnabi Alekry, the chairman of the Bahrain Transparency Society, a non-governmental organisation.

"It's not based on 'one-man, one-vote' because of the electoral district sizes. It's not an equitable system," said Mr Alekry, noting the ratio between the numbers of voters in Shiite districts to Sunni districts is as high as 16 to one.

Another monitoring group called the electoral system equitable, despite a lower house of parliament that will again be predominantly Sunni and pro-government in a country whose population is two-thirds Shiite.

"It's fair because some of the districts are large by population and others are large by area," said Faisal Fulad, the secretary general of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, who encouraged opponents of the system to bring their demands as a draft law to parliament.

Mr Fulad said the election was "very successful, transparent and went smoothly", adding that the ministry of justice did an "excellent" job in overseeing the election. He voiced hopes, however, that future elections would be organised by an independent commission and overseen by international election monitors, who were barred from this year's balloting.

Despite a boycott call by four opposition groups, the government estimates 67 per cent of eligible citizens took part, a slight drop on the 72 per cent who turned out in 2006.

Voters favoured independents over Sunni Islamists. The Shiite opposition group, the Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, also grew in strength, gaining one seat. The final results will be known after nine constituencies hold a second round of voting on Saturday.

The months leading up to the vote were marred by protests and a government crackdown.

In August, the government accused 23 men - members of boycotting opposition groups - of leading a terrorist network. Scores more, including at least one blogger, were arrested in the unrest that ensued as Shiite youths set fires on the country's roads.

Foreign embassies, including the US, which has a major military installation on the island, said little in public about the crackdown. However, international media and human-rights organisations chronicled alleged abuses of the detainees' rights, including prevention of access to lawyers and torture.

Civil-rights organisations bickered, too.

Critics of the Bahrain Transparency Society such as Mr Alekry said the society's independence from the government was "questionable", while Mr Fulad blamed the accusations on the regional fondness for conspiracy theories. "We are always in the middle, and they don't like it," he said of the society's critics.

During the election campaign, the minister of foreign affairs admitted that Bahrain, which relies heavily on foreign investment, had come under "immense international media pressure". In response, ministers and royals made themselves available to journalists to try to correct what they claimed was unbalanced reporting. They argued that there is no proof for many of the opposition's claims about politically motivated and vote-rigging.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae