Manama, Asharq Al-Awsat—Bahrainis voted in parliamentary and municipal elections on Saturday amid a high turnout, despite calls for a boycott of the polls from the country’s main opposition groups.
Speaking to the press from a polling station, Justice Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Khalifa announced on Saturday that voter turnout had reached 51.5 percent for the parliamentary elections and 53.7 percent for the municipal vote.
He said the estimates were “conservative” and that the final turnout would be confirmed once the vote was fully counted.
He added that the call for a boycott of the poll by the opposition—led by the Shi’ite Al-Wefaq group—had only managed to prevent 16 percent of voters from casting their votes.
Elections in 2010, which were not boycotted by the opposition, garnered a 67 percent turnout.
The high voter numbers reflected Bahrainis’ rejection of “sectarian calls” for the boycott, the minister said.
“There are some voters who lined up for four hours in order to vote . . . There is an insistence by the Bahraini people to participate in these elections despite the calls for the boycott,” he said.
Polling stations were kept open in the evening for an additional two hours due to the high number of voters, closing at 10 pm local time, Minister of Information Affairs Samira Rajab said during a press conference on Saturday evening.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Rajab said the Bahraini government was “always open to dialogue” and that the door would remain open for talks with the opposition.
Meanwhile, the main five opposition groups boycotting the poll, including Al-Wefaq, released a statement on Saturday saying they wanted to “achieve a comprehensive political solution to the political and constitutional crisis the country has been experiencing since February 2011.”
The main five parties said they were committed to the unity of the country, rejecting any form of sectarianism. They defended their decision to boycott the vote, calling it a “national duty.”
They said they were ready to talk with the government “on the same table” in order to solve the crisis, though insisted on the presence of international observers from the UN.
The official in charge of organizing the vote, Mohamed Al-Buainain, said there had been some trouble during polling on Saturday, with some voters finding difficulty reaching their polling stations due to cars blocking the road. These were later dealt with by the security forces.
The troubles did not only take place on polling day, Buainain added, revealing that some candidates had been forced to withdraw from the race due to receiving death threats.
Some 349,000 registered voters are casting their ballots to elect 40 representatives in the country’s parliament from among 226 potential candidates.
Another 153 candidates are competing for 40 local council seats.
Independents will win the majority of seats in parliament, with 22 of the 40 seats in the house being fought over exclusively by candidates not belonging to any political party.
Political parties in the country—now dominated by Islamists after the withdrawal of the five main opposition groups—are fielding only 27 candidates for the remaining 18 seats in parliament.
The polls are being monitored by the Bahraini judiciary and 350 observers from eight domestic civil society groups. Candidates will also be allowed to attend the count.