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VOA News Four Bahraini Groups To Boycott Elections 3 Sep 2002 17:32 UTC Bahrain’s main four political groupings say they will boycott the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 24th – the first such elections in 28 years. The groups say they are protesting changes to the constitution giving a council appointed by Bahrain’s king a role equal to that of parliament. A spokesman says the groups are prepared to reconsider the boycott plan if their demands are met. The four groups did reaffirm their support for the reform process launched by Bahrain’s King Hamad in 1999 and said they are committed to settling political differences by peaceful means. Leading the election boycott is the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society. It is the main political formation of Bahrain’s Shi’ite Muslim population, which was in the forefront of violent protests against Bahrain’s ruling Sunni minority from 1994 to 1999. Reinstatement of parliament, dissolved in 1975, was a main demand during the unrest. Joining the election boycott is another Shi’ite grouping, the Islamic Action Society, the leftist National Democratic Action Society, and a pan-Arab nationalist group – the National Democratic Rally. The groupings have criticized a constitutional amendment that gives a consultative (or shura) council, to be appointed by King Hamad, legislative powers alongside those of the 40-seat house to be elected next month. They say the change breaches commitments made in a national charter that was approved overwhelmingly in a referendum in 2001. Bahrain held municipal elections in May in the first test of democratic reforms designed to transform the island from a traditional emirate into a constitutional monarchy.

Like the other Gulf Arab monarchies, Bahrain prohibits formal political parties, but in the past year it has sanctioned associations representing various political leanings in the country. However, these associations are barred from running or backing candidates in the upcoming elections.

BBC Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 20:37 GMT 21:37 UK Bahrain groups plan election boycott Four of the main political groupings in Bahrain have threatened to boycott parliamentary elections in October unless their demands for further political reform are met. They include the influential Al Wefaq National Islamic Society which has strong support from the country’s Shia Muslim majority. The other groups are the National Democratic Society, the National Democratic Action Association and the Islamic Action Society. The elections will be the first representative ones in Bahrain for more than 25 years. However, the country’s monarch, Sheikh Hamad – who’s been responsible for introducing democratic changes – has decided to create also a non-elected Shura council which will have similar powers to those of parliament.

The objectors say this is the main reason for their proposed boycott, although they stress that they still support the King and wish to settle the dispute by peaceful means.

The October Elections, Views and Attitude The political situation in Bahrain has progressed, in the previous months, to secure a three fold objective. A stronger grip over power by the government, a greater isolation and crippling of political groups and a marginal role for the people of Bahrain in the October elections. The government has openly and unilaterally taken actions and enacted laws to realise this fact prior to the elections, thus demonstrating its mistrust in its own population and perpetuating the policies of absolute power and repressive measures. Soon after the short-lived political stability that prevailed in the country after the national action charter, and contrary to its promises and agreements with its own people, the government embarked on an orchestrated programme of overwhelming decrees and laws that were to shape the political practices by political groups and the balance of power in the so-called democracy. The people of Bahrain have struggled for the restoration of the 1973 constitution as it is the only binding document between the government and the people. It is also the framework within which the people can enjoy their minimum political and civil rights. The aforesaid unilateral actions targeted these rights bringing them to the minimum, thus rendering the democracy under the new changes a defunct one. The past months have witnessed a series of actions and statements by government officials that constitute an unreasonable limitation on freedom of expression. This was manifested in a comprehensive campaign of suppressing opinions and depriving them access to the press unless they are in total conformity with government views. The government’s determination to censor on-line content has continued unabated. The statements went further to prohibit political groups from promoting their own candidates for elections, holding public meetings in favour of candidates and lately prohibiting them from interfering in political debate on the grounds that the law prohibits such groups form do so. The government has continued its programme of changing the social structure of the country by granting citizenship rights to millions while depriving thousands of having it, despite fulfilling all the legal requirements. This was combined with relentless efforts in employing foreigners to create a workforce largely composed of non-Bahrainis to ensure total control of markets and consolidating the presence of poor communities, mainly composed of citizens, in a wealthy country. The recruitment and promotion schemes in most of the government ministries and academic institutions have been based on sectarian considerations. In light of the above, the Bahrain Freedom Movement believes that the democracy that will prevail after the October elections will bring further corruption to the country due to the inability of the elected members of effecting any change or positively influencing any decision. It will also consolidate the one party rule phenomena that has crippled the country for decades and against which the people of Bahrain have given great sacrifices. Further, it will reinforce all the powers in the hands of the government and eliminates the opportunities of separation of powers. These negative developments have characterised the so-called ‘transition to democracy’ indicating that an authoritarian tendency has prevailed in the policies of the government towards the people. The Bahrain Freedom Movement therefore believes that the right response is to boycott these ill-fated elections and calls upon the people of Bahrain to continue their peaceful struggle to restore the 1973 constitution and bring stability, civil and political rights, justice and freedom of expression to the country. Bahrain Freedom Movement

3rd of September 2002

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