Hardliners reelected by Bahrain's majority Shi'ite population

Sunday, January 18, 2004

ABU DHABI The Shi'ite majority in Bahrain has maintained what has been termed a hardline leadership.

The biannual elections of Al Wefaq, which took place on Jan. 15, kept intact a leadership that has boycotted parliamentary elections in the kingdom. The elections of the 11-member Al Wefaq board pitted supporters of Shi'ite integration with those who advocated boycotting the Sunni regime.

Bahrain is controlled by a Sunni leadership that has tried to maintain order over a majority Shi'ite community aligned with Iran. Shi'ites stayed away from parliamentary elections in October 2002, the first in 30 years.

"We didn't want to boycott the elections but we were forced to," Abdul Jalil Sangace, a leading Al Wefaq member, said. "For now, we will stick to the same position."

Sheik Ali Salman, a Saudi-trained chemist and deemed a moderate, was re-elected leader of Al Wefaq. But the majority of the council, led by deputy chief Hassan Mushamie, has been regarded as opponents of integration into Bahrain's political process.

Three new members were elected to the board of Al Wefaq, established in 2001. They joined eight incumbents reelected to another two-year term. Voter turnout was light, with fewer than a third of the 1,900 eligible voters casting ballots. Neither of the two women candidates was elected.

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