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Bahrain opposition fears poll fraud
Doubts are voiced over the fairness of upcoming Bahraini legislative elections.
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2006 07:09 GMT


Bahrain goes to the polls on Saturday

Days before legislative elections in Bahrain, the country's opposition has said it doubts the "fairness of the poll" and warned of possible rigging of the ballot by the government.
 
The left-leaning National Democratic Action Association (NDAA) has said 10 out-of-constituency public voting centres could be potential points for fraud.
About 295,000 people are registered to vote in 39 voting centres in the same number of contested constituencies, in addition to 10 public centres.
 
Bahrain's Shia, who make up a majority of the population, see Saturday's polls as a test for the reforms launched by the Sunni-led administration.

Abdulrahman al-Nuaimi, a Sunni candidate from the NDAA, said on Thursday that "the government will be rigging the ballot" if it carried through its decision to have the 10 out-of-constituency centres.

"[One] public centre is based at the causeway" linking the Gulf archipelago to neighbouring Saudi Arabia, al-Nuaimi said, claiming that many "Saudis from the Dosari tribe hold Bahraini citizenship in order to [come and] vote."

Government assurance

Saudi Arabia does not usually allow dual nationality for its citizens, but has historically strong ties with the ruling al-Khalifa Sunni dynasty in Bahrain.

Al-Nuaimi also claimed military personnel are being forced to vote favourably towards the government.

Mohammad Abdul Ghaffar, the information minister, rejected calls for international observers on Tuesday saying the elections will be "fair and above board", the English-language newspaper Gulf Daily News reported.

"The government will be rigging the ballot"

Abdulrahman al-Nuaimi, NDAA candidate
One seat in the 40-strong parliament has already gone to a female candidate who stood unopposed in her constituency.

The Shia and Sunni opposition had boycotted the country's legislative polls in 2002, protesting against constitutional reforms which split the legislative powers between the elected chamber and an equally numbered appointed upper chamber.

The last legislative elections were the first since the parliament was dissolved in 1975.

Shia division

Sheikh Ali Salman, who heads the main Shia political formation, the Islamic National Accord Association (INAA), said: "A failure of [the upcoming] parliament will mean the failure of the reform process."

Failure would "deepen the feeling that parliament is useless and would endanger the entire country," he said. The INAA is participating in the elections after having boycotted the 2002 ballot along with three other opposition groups.

Salman admitted that Shia Muslims are still divided over participation in the elections this time around and that this will affect INAA's chances of winning parliamentary seats.

The split has led to the emergence of Haq, a mainly Shia group which also includes a number of Sunni opposition figures, notably the former MP Ali Rabia and the cleric Issa al-Jodar.

Scepticism

"Hopes are pinned on the [new] parliament. The most important  thing is to convince Bahrainis of the possibility of change, which  requires real achievements, not merely promises"

Sheikh Ali Salman, head of INAA
Like Haq, the Islamic Action Association (IAA), another Shia grouping, is boycotting the elections, though three IAA activists are running as independents.

"The call for a boycott by these groups will certainly have an affect, but I think the majority of Shia favour participation" in the polls, Salman said.

"Hopes are pinned on the [new] parliament. The most important thing is to convince Bahrainis of the possibility of change, which requires real achievements, not merely promises," he said.

But Sheikh Mohammed Ali Mahfudh, the IAA chief, said that "even Sunnis no longer have illusions about the elections".

The whole country is sceptical about the possibility of real change, Mahfudh said.

"Failure will only make matters worse. It is up to the government to either entrench the reform process or dash any remaining hopes for change," he said.

Source:
Agencies
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