Islamists gain majority in Bahrain
By Adel Darwish in Manama
Islamists gained a majority of seats in the first round of Bahrain's first election in 30 years to the lower house, or council of representatives.
It was the first time women had voted in an Arab Gulf state.
A turn-out of more than 53 per cent of Bahrain's 430,400 registered voters exceeded the expectations of the government and Western diplomats after Islamic leaders of the Shia majority called for a boycott in protest against a 40-member upper house Shura council appointed by King Hamad bin Issa.
Most of the 19 candidates who won the first round oppose government policies.
Three hardline fundamentalists calling for implementing a Taliban style strict Islamic code won key seats in the capital Manama. Only four seats went to Shia candidates as a result of the boycott by majority of voters in Shia areas.
If the alliance between the hard Left and Shia Islamists decide to end their boycott in the second round of voting next Thursday in 21 constituencies, the balance of power could swing to the Shia, making the new 40-seat parliament extremely anti-government.
Observers believe the king will carefully select a new Shura council which, in the words of the information minister Nabil el-Homor, "reflects all sections and trends of Bahrain society". The Shura council appointed in 2000 included women, Christians, Jews and non-Arab minorities.
Other Gulf States are watching the new democratic process in Bahrain . In Kuwait, the Emir, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, plans to reintroduce a bill giving women the right to vote for the first time, says Assyassah, the Kuwaiti daily.
ęCopy rights Adel Darwish & mideastnews 2002.