Voting underway in Bahrain amid Shi'ite opposition boycott

 

Manama: Bahrainis went to the polls on Saturday for the first Legislative Elections since a 2011 uprising, but the vote is being boycotted by the Shi'ite opposition that led Gulf kingdom`s pro-democracy movement.

The electorate of almost 350,000 is being called to choose 40 deputies, with Sunnis making up most of the 266 candidates.

The polls are being contested without a compromise in sight between authorities in the Sunni-ruled monarchy and the opposition.

Al-Wefaq, the main opposition group, has dismissed the electoral process as a "farce" and warned that failure by the kingdom`s rulers to loosen their grip on power could trigger a surge in violence.

The opposition`s month-long uprising in early 2011 was crushed by the authorities.

The political rivals have struggled to bury their differences through a so-called "national dialogue" that fell apart despite several rounds of negotiations.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) and are due to close at 8:00 pm. Municipal elections are being held at the same time.

The opposition boycott means voter turnout will be a key marker of the validity of the vote.

Al-Wefaq chief Sheikh Ali Salman has predicted a maximum turnout of 30 percent, saying the boycott stems from "the people`s demand for democratic reforms".

A second round of voting will be held next Saturday.

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