Manama: Bahrain goes to the
polls on Saturday for a parliamentary election that will be a
key test of the willingness of the pro-Western Gulf state`s
Sunni royal family to relax its stranglehold on power.
A wave of arrests against political activists from the
archipelago`s Shiite majority in the run-up to polling day has
drawn warnings from international human rights watchdogs of a
drift back to the "full-blown authoritarianism" that preceded
the promulgation of a new constitution in 2002.
Electoral commission chief Abdullah al-Buainain
insisted: "We are determined that the elections should be
transparent," adding that polling stations would be monitored
by 379 observers from Bahraini non-governmental organisations.
But opposition groups have warned of the dangers of
fraud while rights groups have said the polls are unlikely to
meet basic conditions for fairness.
In a challenge to the ruling Khalifa family`s long
domination of political life, the leader of the mainstream
Shiite opposition in parliament called openly during the
election campaign for an end to its hold on the premiership
and other key levers of power.
"It is unacceptable that power be monopolised by a
single family, even one to which we owe respect and
consideration," the head of the Islamic National Accord
Association, Sheikh Ali Salman, told a mass rally in a suburb
of the capital Manama, yesterday.
Despite the 2002 reforms which renamed the then
emirate a constitutional monarchy and restored the legislature
dissolved in 1975, King Hamad`s uncle, Sheikh Khalifa bin
Salman al-Khalifa, has served continuously as prime minister
since independence from Britain in 1971.
"We look forward to the day when any child of the
people, be they Sunni or Shiite can become prime minister,"
Salman told the campaign rally.
Unlike the radical groups which continue to
boycott Bahrain`s electoral process, Sheikh Salman`s grouping
is contesting 18 of the 40 seats in parliament in this
weekend`s election. It held 17 in the outgoing legislature.