Bahrain election needs runoff to decide more than half the seats

There will be a run-off vote in Bahrain's first parliamentary election for 30 years. The first vote, on October 24, produced 19 winners but 21 seats remained undecided.

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By  David Cass Published  October 26, 2002

There will be a run-off vote in Bahrain's first parliamentary election for 30 years. The first vote, on October 24, produced 19 winners but 21 seats remained undecided.

Just over 53% of eligible voters went to the polls, despite a boycott call by mainly Islamic opposition parties. This was described by Information Minister Nabeel al-Hamar as “exceeding government expectations.”

"This result is a confirmation that the majority of Bahrainis are committed to taking the path of democracy," said al-Hamar.

The poll has been described as a victory for the ruling al-Khalifa family. The move towards greater democracy through the parliamentary elections has been driven by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who has been keen to end several years of conflict between his government and opposition parties.

Observers believe that the mainly Shia Muslim majority on the island might have damaged their own cause with their attempted boycott. Before the vote speculation had been widespread that there would be a decisive majority of Islamist members in the new parliament. It is now thought that the boycott by the Islamist parties themselves avoided that.

Indeed, the main opposition party, Jamiat al-Wafaq has tried to show that while remaining outside parliament, it is in favour of constructive steps by the ruling family.

While criticising the elections as a betrayal of the 1973 constitution, its leader Sheikh Ali Salman made it clear his group would use "legitimate means" to continue their political struggle.

It was also the first election in which women were allowed both to vote and run for office. None of the eight women candidates won outright but two tied with male opponents to make it through to the run-off stage next Thursday.

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