People Are Boycotting Bahrain’s First Elections Since the Arab Spring

By Payton Guion

In the face of a Shia-led boycott, polling stations opened in Bahrain on Saturday for legislative and municipal elections, the first held in the country since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

The Bahraini government called on all citizens to take part in the elections, but it appears the country’s Shia population — which is the majority in Bahrain — will not be participating. Shias have called the elections an attempt to install “absolute rule” for the Sunni government, according to a BBC report.

Shias began heavily protesting the Sunni leadership in 2011, but the government was backed by Saudi Arabian military muscle — including tanks — and was successful in quelling the unrest.

Shia resentment has been smoldering ever since, and has resulted in periodic episodes of violence in the island country off the east coast of Saudi Arabia. Al-Wefaq, the main Shia opposition group, is leading the boycott.

A video taken Friday shows hundreds of Shias taking to the streets in Dilmaz, Bahrain, protesting the elections. The protest remains fairly calm and a security force is visible on the streets.

Bahrain: An Inconvenient Uprising. Watch the VICE News documentary here.

The Associated Press reported that 419 candidates are up for parliamentary and municipal seats in Saturday’s elections. Candidates must get more than 50 percent of the vote or a runoff election will be held next week.

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The elections are for Bahrain’s lower house of parliament, which has 40 seats and is an important symbolic piece of the government, even if it has limited powers. Seats in the upper house of parliament are chosen by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, whose family holds most senior government posts. The Khalifa family are Sunnis.

The king’s uncle, Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, is the country’s unelected prime minister and has been serving as such for more than 40 years.

After the 2010 elections, al-Wefaq held 18 of the 40 seats in the lower parliament, but removed its members after the Arab Spring uprising.

Human rights activist imprisoned for allegedly insulting Bahrain government on Twitter. Read more here.

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