Section 1: A strong showing for progressive & youth candidates
A strong showing for progressive & youth candidates
One interesting feature of Bahrain’s 2014 elections is the number of people calling for specialized and technocratic MPs in the new Parliament. There is also a significant group of candidates claiming to be promoting the youth.
Business figures, including several prominent business women, lawyers, economists, civil servants and other professional figures are also highly conspicuous in this campaign.
With only half of Bahrain’s constituencies having a sitting MP contesting the vote, we are guaranteed a Parliament full of new faces. Here, we will look at the extent to which these new faces may reflect a new and more progressive attitude in Bahraini politics.
Liberal political societies
Although around 90% of candidates are independents. However, there are also several liberal and progressive political societies putting forward candidates.
The National Unity Gathering has distinguished itself from other Sunni political societies by putting its weight behind two high-caliber female candidates and supporting a number of respected technocratic figures. Both these women candidates, Jehan Hadi and Sima al-Lengawi are competing against strong contenders from other Sunni societies like Al-Asalah and Al-Minbar which refuse to back female candidates, so a win for either of these two women would be seen as a significant victory for female figures in Bahraini politics.
Two other “liberal” societies associated with the Al-Fateh coalition have put forward candidates. Al-Mithaq Society is contesting two seats and Al-Wasat’s secretary-general Ahmed Al Binali is also standing.
The new Al-Watan society which claims to stand for a liberal and progressive Bahrain has also put forward several candidates, including prominent businesswoman Lulwa Mutlaq.
Other smaller groupings, like the Economic Coalition, Al-Rabitah and the Free Nationalists Society also have candidates standing.
With several of these political society representatives being considered political heavyweights, it would not be surprising to see significant representation for these societies in the coming Parliament.
Economic and technocratic figures
Several of the business candidates have been outspoken in criticizing previous parliaments for lacking essential skills and expertise in economic disciplines. These elections have been distinguished by several major figures from the Bahraini business world, like Adel Al Safr and Abdullah al-Kooheji.
Many of these have put forward sophisticated and practical proposals for developing Bahrain’s economy.
A further important factor is the number of leading candidates who have served one or more terms as municipal councilors. Such a record of public service at a grassroots level is well suited to enriching the knowledge and skills we can expect within the coming Parliament.
Legal and media specialists
A significant number of figures with a legal and human rights background have entered the 2014 parliamentary contest.
The candidacy of Dr. Abdullah al-Dirazi, Deputy head of the National Institution for Human Rights and an outspoken figure on human rights issues, caused a stir in this contest, not least as many consider him the strongest candidate in his 7th Capital constituency.
Another candidate considered a front-runner is Ali al-Aradi is a consultant in the Bahrain Chamber for Conflict Resolution with a background in law and human rights, as well as Badr al-Hammadi, also from a legal background.
These candidates have cited the importance of cultivating a climate within the new Parliament where human rights and legal issues are understood and prioritized.
Journalist Ammar al-Bannai is considered a strong contender in one of the most hotly-contested districts in Bahrain – 4th Capital. Likewise, Zainab Abdulamir is also emerging as a potential favourite in a difficult contest (against Abdullah al-Dirazi in 7th Capital).
There are around half a dozen media candidates who stand some chance of performing well in this contest and several are explicitly promoting the rights of journalists and media freedoms.
Another distinguishing feature of this campaign is the number of younger candidates who are contesting on an electoral platform promoting issues concerning young people.
Yassir Nassif is contesting in a constituency – 1st Northern – where the boycott is expected to be strongest, yet he aspires to take the aspirations and grievances of local youths and gain greater parliamentary attention to issues like youth unemployment, housing for young families and facilities for young people.
Many other “youth” candidates stress the importance of “pumping young blood” into the Bahraini political process. In fact, few of Bahrain’s 40 constituencies don’t have a younger candidate who is specifically reaching out to young people and advocating their concerns. 2014 may be the year young Bahrainis break into parliamentary politics.
So Bahrain’s 2014 parliamentary contest is distinguished by youth, technocratic and female candidates. Indeed, in some figures like Zainab Abdulamir and Rua al-Haiki you find all three of these attributes in one package.
In many of the more traditional constituencies it is difficult to imagine these figures getting a look in, but in many of the areas of central Bahrain where you find a diverse population, where entrenched political and religious ideologies don’t hold sway and where you find large numbers of well-educated young people; we can certainly hope to see a progressive and forward-looking set of voices gain their seats in the Parliament.
A diverse and tough contest for Isa Town
The 1st and 2nd Southern constituencies cover the area around Isa Town and Zayed Town. These central areas of Bahrain areas have historically been the most favourable for liberal, technocratic, female and broadly-speaking progressive candidates. Because this sector is made up from former districts of the Central Governorate, it is difficult to judge where its new affiliations will lie.
Successful candidates in this region have tended to be independents, but this time the 1st Southern constituency is witnessing a three-way battle between the leading Sunni political societies.
The 1st Southern constituency will be an unpredictable and difficult fight. Incumbent MP, Adnan al-Maliki from the Salafist Al-Asalah will have to compete against two other Sunni groupings, in the form of Al-Minbar al-Islami (Adnan al-Maliki) and the National Unity Gathering (female candidate Jehan Mohammed); along with numerous independent candidates, making this fight certain to go to a second round.
Al-Maliki has commenced a very visible and bullish campaign, with large billboards and a staunch defence of his parliamentary record. Khalid al-Shaer has also been very visible and his experience in fighting previous rounds of elections is showing through in helping him gain prominence and coverage.
In the 2nd Southern district incumbent MP Isa al-Qadhi will be facing stiff competition from a string of other independent candidates. Al-Qadhi’s rivals have on several occasions been critical of the “poor performance” and “scarce results” of incumbent MPs.
Journalist Mohammed al-Ahmed, Faydh al-Sharqawi and Abdulaziz Matar have been notable so far for fighting vigourous and visible campaigns through the press and social media. All three are campaigning conspicuously for the “youth” vote.
With several of the eight candidates clearly believing that they have a strong chance of winning this contest, a second round looks almost certain.
Areas covered: Isa Town
Number of candidates: 10
Likelihood of going to second round: 95%
Registered voters: 7,998
Adnan Mohammed Halal Ali al-Maliki – Asalah Incumbent
Al-Maliki stated that his society, Al-Asalah, wanted to focus on improving standards of living and improving housing provision during the coming Parliament. Al-Maliki had been standing as an independent when he won his seat in 2010.
Al-Maliki has been questioning how the dissolution of the Central Governorate will affect housing provision for the Isa Town area. @ALMALIKIADNAN
*Jehan Mohammed Mohammed Mahmoud Amin Hadi – NUG
Jehan was the first woman to register her candidacy in the Southern Governorate and has been a prominent voice since the elections were declared.
Jehan: “Bahrainis are determined to continue on their democratic path which offers wide-ranging freedoms and allows citizens to freely and sincerely express their views, including criticizing Government policies”.
The NUG has been vocal in calling for Bahrainis to back its two female candidates, Jehan and Sima al-Lengawi (10th Northern). Jehan has expressed her expectation that women will be highly “influential” in these 2014 elections.
The Al-Fateh Coalition issued a formal complaint that a member of the local Al-Asalah candidate’s team for the municipal elections attacked Jehan’s HQ and physically attacked her husband and campaign manager. @JihanMohammed1
Khalid Abdulaziz Yousif al-Shaer
Al-Shaer told Al-Bilad newspaper that he had gained a lot of political experience since his failed candidacy in the previous elections when he came second against Isa al-Qadhi. Al-Shaer said he would focus his campaign on developing human capital, housing and security.
At the opening of his campaign tent on 8 November, Al-Shaer promised “contemporary solutions” to the housing issue and stressed the need for a more systematic approach to improving standards of living, saying that the solutions that had been put forward “don’t amount to more than an attempt to stir up emotions”.
Al-Shaer said that the involvement of young people in politics “strengthens the democratic process and enriches the work of Parliament”. @alshaer_khalid
Khalid Mohammed Yousif al-Qattan – Minbar
Al-Qattan told Al-Wasat newspaper that his chances were good “based on my positive role in the National Consensus Dialogue”. He praised the high number of candidates in the 1st Southern constituency as “healthy phenomenon” for providing constituents with a broad choice.
Jaffar Habib Jaffar al-Kharaz
Al-Kharaz has stressed that “housing and the youth” are his two campaign priorities. Habib cited his past experience of government work on housing issues to illustrate that he had the necessary experience to address people’s aspirations on this issue.
Al-Kharaz will stand as an independent, saying he wanted to show that independent voices were the best able to reflect the views of citizens.
His campaign brochures humorously highlight the need to combat corruption in the elections process; displaying images of a fridge, an air conditioner and money (items notorious for having been given out in previous elections) with a “X” symbol next to each one.
Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Saad al-Amer
Al-Amer is an administrative official for a bank. He pledged to prioritize “supporting economic projects and projects for national unity”. He is also prioritizing security and stability.
Amer clarified that he was standing as an independent, despite being a member of Mithaq. He said that Bahrainis had “lost trust in political societies”.
Salman Hamad al-Shaikh Mohammed Isa al-Shaikh
Al-Shaikh only gained just over 200 votes against Adnan al-Maliki in 2010. As of 6 November, his campaign was only just getting going, with 17 followers on his campaign Twitter account. @salmanalshaikh
Anwar Ibrahim Mohammed Qambar
Qamber’s electoral material has included the slogan “the national interest should come ahead of any other consideration”.
Abdulghani Mubarak Ali al-Haiki
Abdulghani still hasn’t succeeded in gaining media coverage in this tough 1st Southern contest.
Abdulrahman Abdullah Hassan Jassim
Beyond confirmation of his candidacy, little has been heard in the media so far from this candidate.
Areas covered: Isa Town, Zayid Town
Number of candidates: 8
Likelihood of going to second round: 85%
Registered voters: 8,212
Isa Ali Jamal al-Qadhi – Incumbent
Al-Qadhi is an independent MP who won his seat in a second-round run-off in 2010. Al-Qadhi in comments to Al-Wasat newspaper accused many candidates of simply participating for “financial motives”, saying that the large number of candidates in this elections was a negative phenomenon. @isaalqadhi
*Faydh Ali Ahmed Jassim al-Sharqawi
Al-Sharqawi has called for greater support for small and medium businesses, including a reduction in the fees imposed on these ventures.
Al-Sharqawi has stressed the importance of encouraging young people to participate in the democratic process through outreach to universities and schools, with a view to promoting the King’s reform project.
At public meetings Al-Sharqawi has urged that voters promote young candidates “in order to witness their capabilities for accomplishing change”. She has expressed her expectation that women will perform well in the 2014 elections.
Mohammed Salman Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmed
Journalist Al-Ahmed has praised the recent electoral boundary changes as “making a big difference to the political map” and has stressed the importance of independent monitors for guaranteeing transparency and fairness for the elections. Al-Ahmed in an interview with Al-Bilad newspaper also stressed the importance of combatting extremist groups like ISIS.
Al-Ahmed has been outspoken in warning about increases in personal debt, out of proportion with the relatively low wages of ordinary citizens. He noted in comments to Al-Ayam that 72,000 citizens had wages lower than 400 dinars (approx. $1060) per month. “Improving living standards must occur in parallel with reducing public debt” stressed Al-Ahmed.
Abdulaziz Mohammed Matar Jassim al-Shawoush
Abdulaziz says he has put “the youth at the centre of my campaign”. He said that young people could achieve great things for Bahrain, but they “have never been given the chance”. Matar has called for changes in the housing law which he says will allow for a more equitable and efficient distribution of housing units.
Matar has promised to use his role in the coming Parliament for a “fairer” approach to the spending of state budgets in support of Bahraini families. Matar said he would work with a team of “legal and economic specialists from the primarily youth” to assist him in pressuring the Government to revise its spending policies. Matar has been very visible in the social media. @AzizMatter
Ahmed Saleh Rashid Matar
Matar says that the aim of “re-establishing national unity” lies behind his candidacy. He said that intellectuals and civil societies had failed to play this crucial role in addressing divisions and sectarianism.
He called on candidates to abide by ethical guidelines in competing for the elections and avoiding events of previous campaigns where promotional material of rivals was vandalized.
Mohammed Ahmed Saleh al-Dhawadi
Al-Dhawadi slogan: “I don’t promise what I can’t deliver. I do what I promise”.
Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Ali al-Murbati
Al-Murbati, 36 years-old, told journalists that he had dreamed of competing since 2002, but only now was he within the age limit. He said that Isa al-Qadhi, the local incumbent had had long enough in his seat.
Yaqoub Yousif Yaqoub Nassim
Nassim initially announced he was standing for election – then withdrew – then returned to the contest. Nassim will stand as an independent, despite being a member of the “Reform Society” associated with Al-Minbar al-Islami.