x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Vote is 'opinion of the Bahraini people'

Pro-government candidates have secured a majority in the lower house of Bahrain's parliament in the second round of an election that was highlighted by low voter turnout for the major Sunni Islamist groups.

KUWAIT CITY // Pro-government candidates have secured a majority in the lower house of Bahrain's parliament in the second round of an election that was highlighted by low voter turnout for the major Sunni Islamist groups.

With the results of Saturday's second-round voting tabulated, the country's two largest Sunni groups, the Al Menbar National Islamic Society and Al Asalah, will have five representatives in the next parliament. At the peak of their strength in the last parliament, the two groups controlled 15 of the 40 seats.

Ali Ahmad Abdullah, the deputy leader of Al Menbar, a group with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, said the election was difficult for his party, "but this is the opinion of the Bahraini people". The society's leader, Abdullatif al Sheikh, lost his seat in a runoff over the weekend.

Mr Abdullah believes Al Menbar fared badly because, unlike previous years, it did not form an electoral pact with Al Asalah to avoid competition in many districts. He said the country's largest opposition group, the Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, had supported Al Menbar's opponents in some constituencies.

"This was not what we planned for. We lost a lot of seats," said Isa abu Alfateh, a member of the last parliament for Al Asalah, a Salafi group, who lost his seat to an independent this year. Mr abu Alfateh also blamed the lack of an electoral pact with Al Menbar for the poor Sunni Islamist performance.

Al Asalah is trying to increase its strength in the chamber by encouraging successful independents that it supported during the election to join the party, Mr abu Alfateh said. "Everyone is working hard to enlarge his bloc."

"Their total sank from 15 to five - that's a major loss," said Ibrahim Sharif, the leader of the liberal National Democratic Action Society. Mr Sharif believes the government used "every trick in the book", to support independent candidates, such as directing the vote of members of the military and naturalised citizens. He believes the government prefers non-affiliated candidates because they are easier to control.

The government denies that it supports any candidate, and says there is no proof of the opposition's claims.

When Mr Sharif and another member of the National Democratic Action Society lost in the runoff, the opposition lost the opportunity to control half of the lower house's seats. The only opposition group that will be represented in the next parliament will be Shiite-dominated Al Wefaq, which increased its number of seats in the chamber by one to 18 on October 23.

The independents, who include tribesmen, businessmen, conservatives and one woman, will be the main source of government support in the next house. Independents increased their representation in parliament from eight to 17 seats this year.

The opposition's failure to win a majority of the lower house means the government will have a firm grasp on the country's National Assembly. Parliamentarians who are seen as being close to government will control the Council of Representatives, while the upper house, the Consultative Council, is appointed by the king. Both houses must approve all legislation.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae