Islamists, secularists split in Bahrain

Friday, November 1, 2002

MANAMA, Bahrain -- Secular candidates won a slight majority over Islamists in voting for 21 seats in Bahrain's parliament, while two women who hoped to make history by getting elected both lost, according to preliminary results announced Thursday.

Preliminary results showed that 12 secularists and nine Islamic candidates won seats, making the 40-seat legislature representative of the tiny kingdom's political spectrum.

The first round of parliamentary elections, the first in Bahrain in nearly 30 years, were held last week.

Commenting on the failure of the two women to win seats, Information Minister Nabil al-Hamer said: "I am personally very sad at the outcome. But ... we accept the results."

Al-Hamer announced the initial results but did not give figures on the vote. Final results were not expected until Friday at the earliest.

Results from last week's first round of voting showed that 10 Islamic candidates and nine secularists won. Also in the first round, six women were knocked out of the race, leaving Latifa al-Gaoud, a 46-year-old British university graduate, and Fawzia al-Ruwaie, a 41-year-old military nurse, hopeful of winning spots.

"I don't feel like a loser, this was a great learning experience and I hope that Bahraini women don't have to wait long to get into politics," al-Ruwaie said after learning of her loss Thursday night.

Women in Arab politics

Kuwait is the only other Arab nation with a parliament in the gulf region -- which is dominated by traditional rulers. But in Kuwait, women are barred from both running and voting.

In Riffa, south of the capital, Manama, al-Gaoud faced a tough competition from Sunni Muslim cleric Jassim Ahmed al-Saeed. The cleric's supporters were campaigning aggressively, driving around in cars decorated with al-Saeed's posters.

Although no women have been elected to the 40-seat chamber, they seem to have fared better than they did in May's municipal elections when the voters -- a slight majority of whom are women -- rejected all 31 women candidates outright.

Last week's turnout of about 53 percent of registered voters also was an increase from the 51 percent turnout in municipal elections.

"My husband told me that it's important to vote, so I am here," said a Shiite housewife, Aneesa Mubarak.

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