MANAMA,(Reuters) – Bahrain’s main Shi’ite Muslim opposition said it had secured 16 of parliament’s 40 seats as final election results were being announced on Sunday.
If confirmed, the results could give majority Shi’ites a bigger role in the political life of the Sunni-ruled kingdom, although the head of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society has said he doubted that winning seats would yield any political power.
“We have won 16 and we are waiting for the 17th seat in the second round,” Wefaq official Fahim Abdullah told Reuters as results were read out on television.
Wefaq had warned the authorities that any attempt to rig Saturday’s parliamentary and municipal elections would be vigorously opposed.
The group contested 17 parliament seats and 23 of 40 municipal seats. It said it would know the polls were rigged if it did not win 13 parliamentary seats.
The polls took place against a backdrop of Sunni-Shi’ite tension in nearby Iraq and were the first to be contested by Wefaq in the pro-Western island state of 650,000, which is around 60 percent Shi’ite.
Four opposition groups boycotted the 2002 vote to protest against constitutional changes that granted a state-appointed council equal legislative powers to the elected assembly.
An official elections Web site showed voter turnout at 72 percent.
Many Sunnis welcomed Shi’ite participation in the elections and Bahrainis do not want a repeat of political unrest that gripped the country in the 1980s and 1990s.
Some Wefaq officials had alleged some voting irregularities but election officials denied that.
Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa family. Since coming to power in 1999, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has introduced some reforms, including pardoning political prisoners and exiles.
Shi’ite demands for more power and an end to discrimination in jobs and services have led in the past to unrest and arrests.
They have also complained of what they say is a state move to award citizenship to thousands of Sunnis from other countries to weaken Shi’ite influence. The government says it has naturalised relatively few foreigners, and Shi’ites were well represented among them.