It is one thing for Sheikh Ali Salman to decide that Al-Wefaq Islamic Society will boycott the Parliamentary elections. It’s his political society, so it’s his choice.
However, Sh. Ali Salman and Al-Wefaq are now going a step further and urging their followers to boycott the elections.
There is a double threat to this, because the cleric, exploits his status as both a political and religious leader, so that when he and figures like Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim instruct the Bahraini Shia community not to vote, this is taken by many to be a religious command that cannot be ignored.
Sheikh Ali Salman has exploited this ambiguity more than once in the past. For example; in 2006 he angered Ayatollah Ali Sistani by giving the impression to supporters that a private phone conversation he’d had with Sistani’s representative amounted to a Fatwa commanding everyone to go out and vote for Al-Wefaq.
Sheikh Ali Salman claims to want democracy; but by demanding that his supporters boycott the vote he is undermining the democratization process in Bahrain. Why not re-enter Parliament and use the parliamentary process to encourage further change and reform; taking advantage of the 2012 reforms that further empower elected representatives?
When Al-Wefaq announce in their statement urging a boycott that “elections are a waste of time”, how do they expect people to interpret their attitude towards democracy?
The demands for a parliamentary boycott illustrate perfectly why Al-Wefaq’s calls for overnight conversion to a single-chambered Parliament and directly elected Cabinet would be so dangerous for Bahrain.
When a sermon from a single Ayatollah can bring out tens of thousands of supporters on the streets, or paralyze the parliamentary process, or change the course of a vote; the democracy they claim to seek starts sounding very much like a theocracy.
Al-Wefaq and the Sunni Islamist political societies may despise each other, but that never stopped them from collaborating in the past to try forcing through numerous Islamic measures fully incompatible with a tolerant and diverse society.
The Shia Islamist Al-Wefaq and the Sunni and Salafist MPs comprise an unshakable parliamentary majority that, without the various checks and controls existing within our Constitutional Monarchy could rapidly make Bahrain look more like the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’s so-called “Caliphate”.
Sheikh Ali Salman fails to understand that by threatening boycotts and holding the parliamentary process hostage, he is violating all the values of pluralist democracy that he pretends to support.
Democracy is a participatory process. One group should not try and force its agenda on all others. Rather, democratization requires sophisticated checks and balances so that minorities are protected and the views of all segments of society get a hearing.
Sheikh Ali Salman has spent so long pretending to speak in the name of the “People of Bahrain” that he’s forgotten that there are large and important constituencies who also have views about Bahrain’s future, and whose aspirations he ignores completely.
By commanding his religious supporters to boycott elections, Al-Wefaq has robbed its political constituency of the choice that it pretends to be fighting for.