The expansion of democracy in the Gulf moved a step forward on 22 September when Bahrain's election commission announced a list of 190 candidates to stand for 40 seats in the country's House of Deputies. Electioneers have a month of campaigning ahead of them before Bahrainis go to the polls on 24 October to elect the country's first non-appointed legislature for almost 30 years.
The 40-member chamber will sit alongside a second council appointed by the Majlis al-Shura. The chambers will share power in a bicameral parliament modelled on the British and Canadian systems. However, under the terms of the new constitution, absolute authority will remain in the hands of the King, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and the Prime Minister, currently Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, and the council of appointed ministers.
Doubts over the number of candidates that would register their intention to contest the elections emerged in early September when the four main Shia political opposition groups announced their intention to boycott the ballot unless more power was devolved to the elected chamber.
Led by the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the four groups are arguing for a revision of the power-sharing constitution in line with the previous legislation of 1973, which gave the parliament a greater say in the affairs of state.
Despite a significant concession made by the King to allow candidates to stand for election as representatives of political groups, such as Al-Wefaq, the boycott remains in place. 'They have given us none of the concessions we asked for,' says Abdul Jalil Singace, an Al-Wefaq spokesman. 'Our boycott remains firmly in place, we have no candidates in the election.'
The number of candidates registered to stand in October compares poorly with the turnout for the municipal elections held in May. Then some 320 Bahrainis contested 50 seats. October's ballot is expected to see a low turnout at the poling stations by Bahrain's Shia community, which is estimated to number some 400,000 people.
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