Bahrain’s Elections: a March Forward

Bahrain has once again proved to the world that it will not flinch from its goal of making this nation a stronger democracy. The massive turnout in Saturday’s polls indicates the nation’s resolve in moving ahead with reforms.

An interesting outcome can be seen from the results of Saturday’s Parliamentary elections in the country.

According to the election procedure, if no candidate obtains more than 50% of votes, the vote must go in for a second round with the top two candidates.

Out of the 40 seats only six seats are now clearly decided. But 34 are going to a second round.

Out of the 25 incumbent MPs who were contesting 22 seats, three are definitely back in Parliament, 13 remain in the competition, and nine are out of the race altogether.

This means 60 per cent of the new Parliament will be made up of new faces.

The fact that 170,000 people turned out to vote, from an eligible 349,713 voters in the Kingdom of Bahrain, despite boycott-calls by some groups, clearly shows that the majority’s wish is to keep the democratic process going on.

In spite of attempts by some people in many places, especially in the Northern Governorate, to block the election process by violence – in the form of burning of tyres on roads, littering of roads with cement blocks, laying of tree trunks across the roads, and setting alight the rubbish in dustbins – the huge turnout of voters displays the positive outlook of the citizens of this country.

This Saturday’s elections are the fourth parliamentary elections since 2002, when the first was held under the new constitution approved that year.

Though these elections are being held every four years since then, it was during the 2011 protests across the Middle East called the Arab Spring that the largest opposition group in Bahrain’s Parliament, the Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, resigned.

Now, a coalition of five opposition parties, headed by Al Wefaq, had called for an election boycott.

However, when announcing the voter turnout on Saturday evening, the Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments Shaikh Khaild bin Ali Al Khalifa, gave us the following interesting observation.

If we compare the turnout of 2010 which was 67.7 % – when Al Wefaq had contested in the elections – to this year’s 51.5 % when they boycotted, we can say that there really was only a 16.2 % reduction in the total voter turn-out.

The ones who went with the boycott are significantly less, and really do not have a major impact on the democratic process now.

The voter turnout, I believe, is the critical element in an election process without which significant inroads cannot be made into the formation of a strong democracy.

We must echo the pride of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on the fact that thousands have come to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives to the parliament.

His words: “The march of democracy will continue with unflinching resolve to achieve goals and build a better future for coming generations”, gives us the assurance that the country is headed in the right direction. And I believe it is.