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Thu 21 Oct 2010 04:31 PM

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Bahrain gears up for election day

Three main blocs vie for seats in country’s assembly as electorate prepares to take to the polls

Bahrain gears up for election day
Central campaign for Al Wefaq National Islamic Society in the run up to Bahrains elections on October 23, 2010

Voting for seats in Bahrain’s lower parliament are set to take place on Saturday, with 40 seats in the assembly up for grabs.

Al Wefaq, the country’s biggest Shi’a political bloc, already holds 17 seats, and will be looking to add to that total.

It is competing against Sunni Islamist groups and Waad (Democratic Progressive Tribune), a secular bloc, which is putting up three candidates.

The vote is the third to be held in Bahrain since King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa reformed the political process, launching a new constitution and parliamentary elections 10 years ago.

The build-up to the election has been marred by social unrest, as Bahrain’s Shi’a majority seeks to exert itself against the Sunni royal family.

Next week, 23 Shi’a opposition figures will go on trial – two in absentia – charged with terrorism offences and plotting to overthrow the regime. 

In recent years, Shi’as have complained of discrimination, arguing that gerrymandering has left it impossible for them to vote for their favoured candidates.

But Sheikh Khaled bin Ali al-Khalifa, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, told Reuters that the current electoral process was fair.

"It's an inclusive system. It brings everyone in," he said. "It's not a matter of a security crackdown; there were crimes committed that coincided with the elections."

Gulf Daily News reported that parties had turned to video campaigning in a bid to persuade the electorate to turn out.

The paper also reported that the Bahrain Transparency Society issued a pre-election report which cited an increase in usage of social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter as blocs and candidates sought to get their message across.