Human Rights Groups Discuss Bahrain’s Elections

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Director of Educational Programs & Managing Editor

November 15, 2022

On Saturday, November 12, Bahrain held its 6th municipality and parliamentary elections for its lower house, with over 500 candidates in the running. These elections, notably, broke national records for women candidates and voter participation. However, multiple human rights groups have criticized the elections, arguing that they were conducted in a climate of ‘political repression’ after the government declined voting eligibility from various opposition groups.

Parliamentary candidates battled for the 40 seats in the council of representatives. Written in The Times of Israel, within parliamentary elections, more than 330 candidates competed for the council seats: “the lower house of parliament that advises King Hamad, who has ruled since his father died in March 1999…Lines formed outside some of the kingdom’s 55 polling stations before they opened at 8:00 a.m. Amina Issa, head of a polling station in Manama, said turnout was ‘intense since the first hours, and the numbers are steadily increasing.’”

Election day was not limited to those who reside in Bahrain, as eligible voters living abroad had the opportunity to cast their ballot as well. According to Asharq Al-Awsat, “Gulf Cooperation Council citizens residing in Bahrain also have the right to cast their vote and non-residents who own real estate or land in the Kingdom. Bahrainis abroad cast their ballots on Tuesday at 37 embassies and diplomatic missions.”

The country’s voter turnout figure increased to 73%, the highest since 2002; Bahrain News Agency cited particular successes among women and young adult voter turnout. Bahraini Executive Director of Parliamentary and Municipal Elections, Nawaf Abdullah Hamza, stated that “the turnout among female [eligible voters] was 48%, an indication of the high level of political engagement of Bahraini women and their prominent role in consolidating democracy practices…The turnout of young voters was 45.37%, a figure that reflects the vitality of political and democratic life in Bahrain, and the interest of young citizens in actively participating in the national process of electing lawmakers and municipal councilors.”

The voter turnout success was expressed eagerly throughout Bahraini state news. Explained in Arab News, a Bahraini state news agency BNA proclaimed that “the record turnout was a ‘culmination of the democratic progress’ led by the country’s leadership, Nawaf bin Mohammed Al Mua’awda, minister for Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments and head of High Committee for Elections for 2022…The minister also noted that the elections were fair, free, and impartial with voting continuing without interruption across the country.”

However, various human rights groups are stating the contrary. Amnesty International has proclaimed that Bahrain’s parliamentary elections “are being held in an environment of political repression following a decade in which the authorities have infringed upon human rights, curtailed civil society, banned political opposition parties and shuttered independent media… The government has outlawed major opposition parties and independent media, and also imprisoned prominent opposition leaders. Consequently, Bahrain today lacks any non-imprisoned political opposition leaders or independent media willing to sharply criticize the government in public”

Human Rights Watch (HRW), another human rights group, argued that Bahrain is conducting tight and restrictive voting measures. HRW released a report that stated that the Bahraini government is using its political isolation laws and a series of other tactics to keep activists and former opposition party members out of public office and other aspects of public life.”

Demonstrations within Bahrain took the streets on the eve of election day to express solidarity with those who have been banned from the right to vote. Highlighted in Press TV, demonstrators filled the streets in the “coastal village of Dumistan overnight, carrying pictures of Bahrain’s most prominent cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, imprisoned political dissidents as well as those killed at the hands of regime forces. They expressed solidarity with political prisoners and jailed activists, called on people from all walks of the society to stay away from the polls during November 12 elections. The protesters also called for an end to human rights violations and the release of political detainees.”

The prominent Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim urged people to boycott the elections. Written in Bahrain Mirror, Sheikh Qassim publicly announced in a broadcast that “participation in these elections is approval of perpetuating the awful situation about which everyone is now complaining. The people of Bahrain are now voicing their frustration about the bad conditions of their situation…Participation in the elections and running for candidacy is also signing approval of the existing normalization, and its expansion, which is dangerous and disastrous.

Accordingly, various opposition groups who were blacklisted by Bahrain’s government did not go to the polling stations. Written in Middle East Monitor, “Saturday’s vote is boycotted by the country’s main opposition groups, including the Islamic Al-Wafa Party and Al-Wefaq National Society, which were blacklisted by the Gulf country.”

With controversy at large, the final results of the elections have yet to be finalized. Al Arabiya News highlights initial, ongoing election results, six candidates including one woman won seats in a first phase of Bahrain’s parliamentary election, while others will compete for the remaining 34 seats in the main event next week, authorities announced Sunday.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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