More than 344,000 Bahrainis are expected to go to the polls on Saturday to elect the 40 members of the lower house of the National Assembly, as well as 30 municipal council members. A run-off vote, if necessary, will be held a week later on November 19.
This is the seventh election to be held in Bahrain since the beginning of the reign of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in 2002. It is the sixth legislative term since elections were held in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 after the withdrawal of the 18 opposition bloc lawmakers - known as deputies, representing nearly half of theparliament, to protest the violent crackdowns during the month-long uprising. The current election campaign has seen the largest number of candidates in the history of the kingdom, with 561 candidates, 107 of them women. Many candidates’ applications were rejected by the electoral committee either because of criminal judgments issued against them, or because they do not actually reside in the constituency in which they applied for candidacy.
According to the Bahraini constitution, the legislative authority consists of two chambers, the Council of Representatives, the lower chamber of the country’s parliament, known as the National Assembly, and the Consultative Council, or the parliament’s upper chamber. The Council of Representatives is made up of 40 deputies who are elected in 40 geographically divided electoral districts and the Consultative Council, also known as the Shura Council, which is appointed by king and has as its members minorities including a Christian, a Jew and several women. Bahraini citizens living abroad began voting on Tuesday, with unofficial estimates indicating that more than 15,000 expats will participate. A candidate must obtain more than half of the votes in his constituency, otherwise a run-off will take place a week later between the two candidates with the highest number of votes in each constituency. Up to 80% of the voting districts could see run-off elections due to the large number of candidates. Although the opposition parties in Bahrain announced a boycott of the election, more than 120 candidates in the upcoming ballot were affiliated with or supportive of the opposition parties, signaling a split within the opposition.
In 2015, Al-Wefaq Islamic Society, the largest opposition Shiite party, was dissolved by court ruling due to accusations that it violated laws and was communicating with Iran. The party had previously always won between 15 and 18 seats in the Bahraini parliament from constituencies that include a Shiite majority.
As it does prior to each election, the Executive Committee for Elections announced a series of measures to prevent electoral fraud, such as the use of transparent boxes and ballot paper containing magnetic tape to prevent the ballots from leaving polling stations. Votes are counted inside the polling stations, and the preliminary results areannounced directly to the candidates. The ballot boxes are transported in numberedcars and can be seen at all times through a direct broadcast to the supervisory centers ineach governorate.
Accusations of rigged elections
Despite these measures, the opposition has accused the authorities of rigging the elections by directing the military to vote for certain candidates, accusations denied by the authorities, who assert that each person is alone in an isolated cubicle when choosing his representative.Voters will elect at least eight new faces this year, since seven current members of parliament did not apply to run in the election, most notably the Speaker of the Council of Representatives Fawzia Zainal, who is also president of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The court also rejected the candidacy request of Adel Al-Asoumi, one of the longest- serving members of the National Assembly, who also serves as speaker of the Arab Parliament, the legislative body of the Arab League, due to an appeal by one of the candidates against him because he does not actually live in the district in which he applied for candidacy.
“No electoral crimes affecting the conduct of the electoral process have been detected.”Nawaf Hamza
Nawaf Hamza, head of the Legislative and Legal Opinion Commission, and executive director of Parliamentary and Municipal Elections 2022, assured journalists that, so far, “no electoral crimes affecting the conduct of the electoral process have been detected.” He said that more than 265,000 voters reviewed their electoral data during the datareview period, the highest number since the first legislative term in 2002.
In 2018, the legislative elections on the Gulf island saw the participation of 67% of total eligible voters, according to the official announcement at the time.
A survey conducted by the Bahrain Center for Strategic and International Studies showed that 63% to 69% of the voters polled planned to vote in the upcoming elections, while 18% were undecided.
On the ground, the electoral race has intensified among the candidates as Election Dayapproaches; during this time each candidate presents his electoral program to thevoters in the constituency from his electoral headquarters.The head of an independent human rights group, Salman Nasser, confirmed to TheMedia Line that "the upcoming elections are an important stage in Bahrain's history."He added: "The next parliament will have many important files on it, related to the post-coronavirus period, as there are major economic and political files that the House ofRepresentatives will discuss."Haya Al-Dosari, a human rights activist, told The Media Line: "We have been monitoringthe electoral process since its inception, and we have not yet found any irregularities.Things are going smoothly up to this moment, and the electoral race is very big betweenthe candidates.""The laws on electoral violations are very strong and strict, and the most importantthing this year is not to detect any rumors about the candidates themselves to influencethe votes of the voters," she added.The Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, which has no headquarters in Bahrain since itsdissolution though it maintains its official accounts on social media, did not respond to arequest from The Media Line to discuss its view of the election.Mohsen Al-Bakri, a former member of parliament, confirmed to The Media Line thatcalls for an election boycott “will not be accepted, as the people have become aware ofthe importance of parliament in resolving outstanding issues.""There will be no boycott, everyone knows how legislative matters are going in thecountry," he added.Noura Subai'i, a journalist specializing in parliamentary affairs, agrees that there will beno boycott of Saturday’s election.
"The upcoming parliamentary elections will not witness a boycott. The opposition hadpreviously bet on a boycott and failed. Since the dissolved Al-Wefaq deputies submittedtheir resignations in 2011 until now, the turnout has been more than 60%," she said. She added: "When the opposition was present in the elections, the participation rate reached 69%, and after boycotting it, it decreased to 63%, which means that the size of the boycott does not exceed 6%, and then the participation rate rose again."
The independent online Bahrain Mirror, which is affiliated with the opposition and also has Arabic- and English-language social media accounts, has published statements attributed to some opposition members calling for a boycott of the elections, but their authenticity was not verified, and opposition members did not publish them in their personal accounts.