Bahrain votes amid religious discord
MANAMA, Bahrain – After facing of months of crackdowns, Shiite leaders in the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain awaited results today from parliamentary elections they hope will be a show of strength against Sunni rulers. But early allegations of voting problems point to possible challenges to the outcome in this key Western ally.
The claims – which include hundreds of Shiites reportedly blocked from voting – could complicate hopes of cooling tensions after waves of arrests and street clashes between majority Shiites who claim widespread discrimination and the Sunni leadership seeking to maintain its grip.
The voting Saturday is likely to resonate well beyond the 40-seat chamber at stake, and could touch on the long-term stability of Bahrain, a strategic American partner. As home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, the island nation is a centerpiece of Washington’s efforts to confront Iran’s military expansion in the Gulf.
The latest unrest is part of discord that has simmered for decades in tiny Bahrain: Shiites pushing for a greater political voice and the ruling Sunni dynasty trying to protect its control.
The parliament has only limited powers and can be overruled by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and his inner circle. For many Shiites, however, gaining more seats – and possibly even taking a majority – is seen as a message not to ignore their demands for a greater say in how the country is run.
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