Bahraini voters are returning to the polls for a run-off election being boycotted by the opposition for the country’s first full legislative elections since widespread unrest took place nearly four years ago.
Saturday’s election follows a first-round vote last weekend and will see 110 contenders compete for 34 parliamentary seats and 21 municipal seats. Only six other candidates won outright majorities in their districts for the 40-seat lower house of parliament.
Polling stations opened at 05:00 GMT and will close by 17:00 GMT later on Saturday.
Bahraini officials have said that more than half of nearly 350,000 registered voters cast their ballots last Saturday while the Shia-led opposition group al-Wefaq said the figure was closer to 30 percent.
|Inside Story – Bahrain election: Whats behind the boycott?|
Al-Wefaq, which won 18 seats in the last full elections in 2010, withdrew from parliament in 2011 and boycotted this year’s elections after it complained of a “lack of seriousness” from the government’s part.
“Unless we agree on the system that represents people and make officials accountable and save people and protect their rights, we can’t participate,” Khalil al-Marzooq told Al Jazeera earlier this week.
Joseph Kechichian, a political analyst specialising in Gulf relations, told Al Jazeera: “Al-Wefaq wants a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain, which means the end of the absolute authority of the ruling family, something that the Al-Khalifahs [the ruling Sunni monarchy] are not ready for.
“Still, the elections are not a sham because more than half of the population voted, despite calls for a boycott.”
Political rivals have struggled to bury their differences through a national unity talks that fell apart several times over the past four years.
The government, however, does not view the talks as a failure as it attributes the upcoming parliament with the responsibility of legislating “positive outcomes” of the national dialouge.
Salman al-Jalahma, media attache at Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority, told British newspaper The Times in a public letter last week that “this year’s election posed a particular significance as the newly elected parliamentarians will have the responsibility to translate these amendments [such as approving the ministerial cabinet prior to its formation] to legislation. These historic outcomes are an indication that the talks were far from having ‘collapsed'”.
Bahrain is home the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and is part of the US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group. It continues to face sporadic street clashes between protesters and riot police as its majority Shia Muslims demand for more political freedoms from the Al Khalifa family.