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Bahrain - Politics - 2018 Election

Bahraini voters went to the polls on November 24 for the second time since unrest broke out in 2011. In advance of the vote, however, activists and members of the banned opposition parties called for a boycott of what they describe as "farce" elections, raising doubts about the credibility of the polls. The government says the elections are democratic. King Hamad, who issued an election decree at a cabinet meeting on 11 September 2018, encouraged citizens to participate in “free, fair, transparent” elections. In May 2018, Bahrain’s parliament approved a bill barring members of dissolved opposition groups from running in elections, the latest step in the political crackdown.

Bahrain has the longest-serving prime minister in the world, Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has been in power since 1971. Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy. King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, the head of state, appoints the cabinet, consisting of 26 ministers; 12 of those ministers were members of the al-Khalifa ruling family.

Citizens have limited ability to choose their government and their political system. The constitution provides for a democratically elected Council of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. A constitutional amendment ratified in 2012 permits the king to dissolve the Council of Representatives, but it requires that he first consult the presidents of the upper and lower houses of parliament as well as the head of the Constitutional Court. The king also has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws.

Parliament consists of an appointed upper house, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and the elected Council of Representatives, each with 40 seats. Under the 2002 constitution, 40 citizens will be elected to the Council of Representatives. They will be joined by 40 royal appointees to Bahrain's upper house, called the Consultative Council. The upper chamber has the power to block legislation by the lower house. The lower house has the authority to examine and pass legislation proposed by the king or cabinet and also has monitoring powers.

Approximately 52 percent of eligible voters participated in parliamentary elections held in 2014. Turnout was significantly lower in opposition districts, due in part to a decision to boycott the elections by the main opposition political societies and a lack of confidence among opposition communities in the electoral system. The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded authorities administered the elections without significant procedural irregularities. There were, however, broader concerns regarding voting-district boundaries.

The government did not allow the formation of political parties, but some “political societies” developed political platforms, held internal elections, and hosted political gatherings. The government dissolved several political societies through legal actions during the year. To apply for registration, a political society must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, a list of all members and copies of their residency cards, and a financial statement identifying the society’s sources of funding and bank information. The society’s principles, goals, and programs must not run counter to sharia or national interest, as interpreted by the judiciary, nor may the society base itself on sectarian, geographic, or class identity. A number of societies operated outside these rules, and some functioned on a sectarian basis.

The government authorized registered political societies to run candidates for office and to participate in other political activities. In 2016 parliament passed an amendment to the political societies’ law, which banned practicing clerics from membership in political societies (including in leadership positions) and involvement in political activities, even on a voluntary basis.

Political societies are required to coordinate their contacts with foreign diplomatic or consular missions, foreign governmental organizations, or representatives of foreign governments with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which may elect to send a representative to the meeting. Although this requirement was enforced in the past, there were no reports of the government enforcing the order during the year.

On 06 March 2017, the Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit to dissolve the National Democratic Action Society Wa’ad, a secular political society. The ministry charged Wa’ad with “supporting terrorism” after its leadership criticized the government for the January execution of three Shia citizens, whom the group publicly called martyrs. The three were convicted of a bombing that resulted in the death of a police officer; the government accused the society of glorifying terrorism and promoting regime change by force, charges that Wa’ad denied. Wa’ad’s appeal of its closure was denied by the Administrative Court of Appeals, but it intended to file a final appeal with the Court of Cassation.

On 06 February 2017, the Court of Cassation turned down an appeal by Wifaq political society, thus upholding a September 2016 appeals court decision to dissolve Wifaq and confiscate its assets on the grounds Wifaq incited terrorism. Observers asserted the government did not provide sufficient evidence to prove the incitement claim. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice filed a motion against Wifaq resulting in suspension of Wifaq’s activities.

Bahrain fielded a record number of women candidates in the upcoming parliamentary and municipality elections to be held on November 24, although two of the three incumbent female MPs decided to opt out of this year’s race. While two women legislators, Dr. Jameela Al Sammak and Fatima Al Asfoor, have chosen not to seek re-election, at least 41 women candidates contested in parliamentary elections, while eight women have filed their candidacy in municipality elections.

"Cyber interference in national elections yet another area of Tehran’s nefarious activity in the region," the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir echoed a similar sentiment. "The results of parliamentary and municipal elections in Bahrain in addition to a high voter turnout signals to a categorical rejection of foreign intervention in domestic affairs and reaffirms the unity of the Bahraini population".

More people have voted in Bahrain's election this year than ever before. Bahrain’s justice minister announced on 25 November 2018 the first batch of results for the country’s parliamentary and municipal elections, one day after 67 per cent of the country took to the polls, despite reported interference by Iran. Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa announced the names of eight winning MPs, including two women, who will represent the capital in addition to the Muharraq, northern and southern governorates. Al Khalifa also announced the names of seven new municipal representatives, including at least one woman.

Two women were among the nine candidates who won in Bahrain’s parliamentary elections so far, and at least another one will join them in a week when the second round is held. In the municipal elections, held concurrently, one woman was elected councillor while three others could join her if they are voted in. Two lawmakers from the outgoing parliament were re-elected, indicating a significant change in the makeup of the new one. In the run-offs to be held on December 1, 10 women will have a new chance to become lawmakers for the 2018-2022 term.

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