This is the second parliamentary election for Bahrain since 1971 and is seen as a landmark event bringing Bahrain closer to democracy.
Kirsten Aiken, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Bahrain, spoke to Sheikh Ali Salam, a leader of the largest Shia opposition bloc, Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, who said that it was time to trial the concept of democracy.
“I hope we can achieve something for these people [the Shia underclass],” he said. “That is something about which to be excited. Just elections without power of parliament is not enough to say it’s sharing or democratic.”
Opposition members say that elections will not be democractic with the polling system that has been introduced.
The government is to use 10 polling stations that will cater for the country’s 40 constituencies.
Abdulrahman al-Nuaimi, a Sunni candidate from the left-leaning National Democratic Action Association (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.
Mansoor al-Jabri, editor-in-chief of the Bahrain daily Al-Wasat news, told Al Jazeera: “The opposition say that at least 6,000 people would be needed to monitor these 10 public polling stations in which some 295,000 people are registered to vote. If it were carried out in local constituencies, it would be much easier to monitor.”
Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy, headed by Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Sheikh Khalīfa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the prime minister, presides over a cabinet of 15 members.
The parliament is made up of two chambers, the chamber of deputies which is elected, and the appointed Shura council. Both houses have 40 members.
The ruling family is Sunni while the majority of Bahrainis are Shia.
Whether the election will contribute towards creating a democracy in Bahrain is yet to be seen with each house having an equal number of members.
Al-Jabri says that although there is an equal number of deputies in each chamber, holding fair and transparent elections where people have the right to vote can help Bahrain’s democratic aspirations.
“Although the Shura council [appointed by the king] must approve all legislation, voting for members of the chamber of deputies can improve the political situation in terms of accountablity,” he said.
Voting stations have been set up in the airport and on the causeway which connects Saudi Arabia to the island.
Not related to the ruling family, the Shias are seen as Bahrain’s working class, and usually take low paid jobs. Poor housing and few jobs number among their concerns. Unemployment runs at about 13 per cent.
Mohammed Jaffa, a Bahraini Shia, says he is disillusioned with the election process and believes that nothing will change.
“Nothing has changed for me since the 2002 elections,” he said. “I don’t think elections will change anything. I’m not going to vote.”
The government has promised to introduce unemployment benefit on January 1, 2007. It has also ratified the convention for human rights on the chapter of political and civil rights, but is yet to implement it.
Aiken says that as soon as you cross the bridge from Manama to the south and enter the district of Muharraq, a Sunni stronghold, there is a different attitude towards political reform.
Marzq al-Jabre, a resident of Muharraq a Sunni stronghold, rejects Shia demands for changes to the division of power between the elected parliament and the appointed consultative council.
“Bahrain’s Muslims are treated equally by the king, prime minister and cabinet,” he said.