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Middle East
Bahrain to hold second round of by-elections
Nine parliamentary seats to go to polls again on October 1 after Shia boycott led to low voter turnout on Saturday.
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2011 13:13
Clashes continue nightly in many Shia areas, where protesters are demanding democratic reform [Reuters]

Bahraini authorities have announced that they will hold a second round of by-elections on October 1 in nine of 18 parliamentary constituencies, after polls held last week were boycotted by the Shia opposition.

Saturday's boycotted elections were held to replace 18 MPs of the main Shia opposition group Al-Wefaq, who resigned in February shortly after protests triggered a deadly response from the authorities in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom.

Four deputies were elected in the absence of any competitors, and five seats were allocated at the end of Saturday's elections, a government statement said.

In the remaining nine districts, "no candidate received 50 per cent of the vote", necessitating a second round, the statement added.

According to figures published on a government website, only 17.4 per cent of eligible voters participated in the election.

Wefaq had predicted a 15 per cent turnout and the government had said it was hoping for at least 30 per cent.

'Historic moment'

The government blamed the low turnout in some districts on voter intimidation.

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Shias denounce Bahrain elections as fake

"What is clear is that in areas where Bahrainis were allowed to freely exercise their democratic right, turnout was high...what is also clear is that in areas where voters had rocks thrown at them, road blocks put in their way and where they suffered sickening intimidation, turnout was low," Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority said in a statement.

The interior ministry said that 22 people were arrested for attempting to obstruct the vote by closing roads, damaging cars in a parking lot near a polling station and by pouring oil in front of another.

But Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman, a Shia cleric, said the results showed Bahrainis rejected the king's reforms and the government faced a stark choice between a move to democracy or "dictatorship".

Salman explained: "There is no such thing as 'Bahraini democracy', there has to be peaceful rotation of power," he told a news conference at Wefaq headquarters in Manama. "If there is no transition, Bahrain will remain in a crisis of security and human rights.

"This is a historic moment."

'Dangerous stalemate'

The tiny Gulf kingdom has been in turmoil since February when protests broke out, led predominantly by Shias seeking greater political and personal freedoms.

After calling in Saudi troops and imposing martial law to quell the protests, the government began a national dialogue that has proposed reforms that opposition groups say fall short of their demands for a transition to democracy.

The proposals allow for increased parliamentary monitoring of government ministers, but do not give the elected body real legislative powers.

Though martial law ended in May, clashes continue almost nightly in many Shia areas of the country. A Bahraini court on Monday sentenced the head of the teachers' union to 10 years in prison for encouraging protest marches and sit-ins.

Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in Qatar, said the election amounted to a referendum on the king's national dialogue and the country now faced a dangerous stalemate.

"Given what King Hamad has said about the urgent nature of reforms, the question is if he can deliver. If he doesn't then I think Bahrain's in serious trouble," he said. "You'll see an escalation of violence."

Source:
Agencies
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