Monday, November 27, 2006

Bahraini balloting

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Meanwhile, in Bahrain:

Bahrain's Shia Muslim opposition has won at least 40% of the vote in elections which saw women and liberal candidates fare poorly.

This election was "only the second time people have been able to vote for national MPs". Bahrain is essentially a constitutional monarchy. The two-chamber National Assembly includes a 40-seat Consultative Council, appointed by the king, and a 40-seat Council of Representatives, elected democratically from majoritarian single-member districts (if a candidate fails to receive a majority of the vote in the election, a run-off vote is held). Men and women over the age of 20 have the right to vote. Turnout was about 72 percent. One woman was elected out of 18 who ran. (For a Q&A on the election, see here. And see the Wikipedia entry here. For more on women in Bahraini politics, see here.)

There are no formal political parties, but there are so-called "political societies" instead. The main Shia opposition "society," Al Wefaq, boycotted the first election, in 2002, but it has done extremely well this time, winning "16 of the 17 seats the group was contesting". What this means is that there is now a significant and vocal opposition in one of the country's two legislative chambers, and Al Wefaq in particular "will be in a position to try to make changes from within government institutions". And it is an opposition that represents a majority of the Muslim population, which is 52 percent Shia and 38 percent Sunni (and which is 81 percent of the total population).

This election also proved to be a victory for Islamist groups on both sides, the Sunni Asalah and Al Menbar and the Shia Al Wefaq and Islamic Action Society. Four candidates from the leftist National Democratic Action (Wa-ad) have moved on to run-off votes, but otherwise Bahrain's more progressive groups did quite poorly. The liberal Economists Bloc lost its seats in the Council, as did the communist Democratic Bloc.

All of which provides a valuable lesson: Democracy and liberalism are not the same thing, and, in parts of the Muslim world, the former certainly does not guarantee the latter.

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home