Bahrainis make a democratic choice
Bahrain went to the polls amid fears of vote rigging and violence on Saturday. Late yesterday, Islamists had the last laugh by registering a comfortable victory in the parliamentary elections held in the kingdom for the second time in four years. The election results sent shock waves across the pro-government Sunni camp. The Islamists literally drove a wedge between the warring Shi’ites and Sunnis and turned the votes in their favour, leaving the liberal candidates far behind. Some 300,000 Bahrainis exercised their franchise in the polls to elect 40 MPs and 40 municipal councillors with 206 candidates vying for the parliament and 165 for the municipal council. The island witnessed violent scenes and sordid campaign as electioneering exceeded limits of decency. However, no untoward incident happened, thanks to a mature behaviour of the Bahrainis beginning to enjoy the first fruits of nascent democracy.
However, the main Shi’ite opposition had questioned the mode of conduct of the poll, which according to them was orchestrated to favour of the minority Sunnis. They had the apprehension that the government wanted to crush down the majority community of Shi’ites, who make up 60 per cent of the island’s 700,000 population. Shi’ites won 16 seats in the poll – three seats more than they expected. This result would certainly force the government to ponder twice before making a strategic move on course to fulfilling the promises of democracy. The Shi’ites, who represent the Al Wefaq Islamic Society, had boycotted the 2002 election because of the strife between the government and the opposition and have sympathy for Islamists whose triumph was not a stray situation typical of Bahrain.
Other Arabs states, especially Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine, too were closely monitoring developments in Bahrain in the face of sizeable Shi’ite presence in their respective countries. All these countries are being faced with external problems from Israel and internal issues vis-à-vis Islamists. Hezbollah has already become a force to be reckoned with in Lebanon and the confidence of Islamic hardliners is on the rise following Iran’s achievements in nuclear enrichment. This is an area of concern for Arab Gulf countries too because their Iranian neighbour is slowly emerging as an influential political force in the region and is backing the Islamists. Iran’s latest overtures to hold tripartite talks with Syria and Iraq must be seen as a move in this direction. The poll results in Bahrain, indeed, embolden the clout of Islamists.
The Peninsula, November 27, 2006