Women’s election registration process takes off on slow note

September 14, 2010
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Only six women have registered to stand for election to Bahrain’s lower chamber in two days amid growing concerns that the 2002 and 2006 scenarios would be repeated.

In 2002, the first elections to be held after a three-decade constitutional hiatus, none of the women candidates in the parliamentary and municipal elections won. In 2006, only one woman, Lateefa Al Gaood, secured a seat after her challenger withdrew from the race and she ran unopposed to become the first woman in the Gulf Cooperation Council to get elected to a parliament.

But, with the number of women candidates for the quadrennial elections on the second day of the registration process standing at six, all recorded on the first of the five-day registration process, hopes of a high turnout of women candidates are dimming, to the great disappointment of women’s rights activists.

Only one political society, Waad, the largest liberal formation in Bahrain, has nominated a woman, Muneera Fakhro.

Muneera, an academic, narrowly lost in the second round of the 2006 elections to her religious opponent in a closely contested election where campaigning between religious and liberal groups was the epitome of their public divergences.

The non-endorsement of any woman by the three main politico-religious societies, Al Wefaq, Al Asala and the Islamic Menbar, has seriously dented women candidates’ chances of winning despite the optimism expressed by some pro-women groups, observers said.

Al Wefaq, the largest society and the parliamentary bloc in the 2006-2010 parliament, said that it supported women, but was concerned about their chances of winning in any of the 17 constituencies it plans to field candidates.

Al Asala, the flagship of the Salafis in Bahrain, has regularly voiced its opposition to women participating in political activities.

The Islamic Menbar, like Al Wefaq, is worried about negative reactions from its conservative constituents.

“Women should get really involved in the political life and should not limit their participation in elections,” said Lateefa Al Good who has applied for a second representation of the sixth constituency of the Southern Governorate.

With no candidate so far to challenge her, she might be re-elected before Bahrain votes on October 23.

Of the 140 people who said that they contest in the elections, 101 have signed up their names, mainly in Muharraq, historically the most politicized governorate, but where Islamists have dominated in the last eight years.

Muharraq has 27 candidates, a figure matched by the Central Governorate. The Northern Governorate has 17 candidates, followed by the Southern Governorate and the Capital Governorate with 16 and 15 respectively.

“We had 13 people on the first day, but only two people on the second,” Wael Bu Allay, the judge in charge of the Capital election supervision bureau, said. “We expect more candidates to file their application on the last two days.”

Only one woman has registered for the elections.

“We are confident that more women will come forth. It means a lot for all those who have been promoting women’s rights,” he said.

Independent candidates have outnumbered politically-affiliated hopefuls from 12 societies 54 to 47, a figure that is in line with the pre-registration expectations.

Bahrain has 18 registered societies and only one, Amal, said that it would not be involved in the elections.

Khalifa Al Dhahrani, the independent speaker of the lower chamber in the 2002-2006 and 2006-2010 terms, on Monday filed in his application amidst great fanfare by his election team, supporters and MPs.

Hasan Madan, the head of the Progressive Democratic Tribune, said that he had “good chances” to win and mentioned “full support” from his constituents.

“My platform includes programmes based on genuine patriotism, the people’s interests, an anti-sectarianism drive and the preservation of achievements,” said Hasan who decided to run following long hesitations.

Ibrahim Shareef, the head of Waad, is in his second attempt to secure a seat in the 40-member chamber, overwhelmingly dominated in the 2006-2010 term by lawmakers representing Al Wefaq, Al Asala and the Islamic Menbar, Bahrain’s leading politico-religious societies.

Another political leader, Hassan Al A’ali, the head of the pan-Arabist Rally Society, presented his papers in the Northern Governorate which leads in the voting blocs with 107,057 voters, followed by the Central Governorate with 98,258, Muharraq Governorate with 57,233, Manama with 38,824 and the Southern Governorate with 17,295 voters.

Elections hopefuls have five days to register their names in one of the five election supervision bureaus, one for each governorate. Registration for the municipal elections will start on September 20.

Bahrain Transparency Society (BTS) will now be the only group to monitor the elections after the social development ministry dissolved the board of the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) for allegedly breaking the rules and adopting a biased sect-based policy in its activities. Both watchdogs monitored the 2002 and 2006 elections and issued reports and said that they had plans to train young men and women to observe the 2010 polls.

However, Bahrain said that no observer affiliated with a political society or associated with a candidate would be allowed in the voting halls.

Foreign monitoring of the elections was also rejected on the grounds that Bahrain was a sovereign country and that international observers were needed in countries that could not handle the voting process adequately.

“We have societies that can monitor elections as was obvious in 2002 and again in 2006,” Khalid Ajaji, member of the elections high commission, said. “We have taken into consideration the remarks made by civil societies and there will be a hotline between the commission and the monitoring groups,” he said.

Abdul Nabi EL Ekri, the head of the Bahrain Transparency Society, said that the watchdog has been monitoring the registration process.

“It has been a smooth operation and all candidates were able to fill in their application forms without problems,” he said. “We hope that the other stages of the elections process will be as smooth. It is a long way to go and we will be monitoring the various developments and will have an online communication process,” he said.

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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