Section one: Do Bahrainis prefer independents or societies?
Section two: Societies compete against independents for east Muharraq
Do Bahrainis prefer independents or societies as elections candidates?
Many non-Bahrainis find our parliamentary elections system very confusing. Where are all the political parties?
In fact, in some of Bahrain’s previous parliaments two thirds of deputies have been independents, many with no obvious political affiliations at all.
In the 2010 elections, the two most important Sunni political societies, Al-Asalah and Al-Minbar only gained five seats between them, and the opposition society, Al-Wefaq, have been boycotting the Parliament since 2011.
In many parts of Bahrain, the mood seems to have turned even further against these political societies. “What did these societies ever do for us over the past four years” is a common question.
The leading Sunni-loyalist societies didn’t help themselves by having huge difficulties in coming up with a unified list to fight the elections with. The messy result was a united “Al-Fateh list” for 12 constituencies, with two districts where Al-Fateh societies would contest against each other; while one society, Al-Asalah, remained outside the Al-Fateh tent altogether, so that several of Al-Asalah’s six candidates are competing directly against Al-Fateh candidates.
However, in 60% of Bahrain’s constituencies these societies aren’t even represented. So therefore, for most of the Capital constituencies and most of the Northern constituencies political societies aren’t even in the race. To the south of Bahrain, independent candidates have also tended to dominate the field.
All this means that if we look at a map of Bahrain, political societies are left struggling to break through in a narrow belt of constituencies across the middle of the country (particularly in Hamad Town, Isa Town and parts of Riffa) and on the island of Muharraq where Islamist societies have tended to perform well.
Even in Muharraq, the sheer number of vigourously-campaigning independent candidates in some of the key constituencies threaten to squeeze out the political societies who would normally have expected to be dominant.
Many figures who are historically associated with particular societies announced that they were standing and categorically told the media that standing as independents would improve their societies because “people have grown tired of the societies”.
The fortunes of these political societies also change in relation to regional developments. Al-Minbar is known as the pro-Muslim Brotherhood society. In the past the Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed a lot of sympathy, but following events in Egypt and other Gulf states coming out against the Brotherhood, Al-Minbar – which performed weakly in the 2010 elections – may be negatively affected.
Commentators have noted that Al-Minbar have adopted an elections policy of damage limitation by only standing in constituencies that they consider to be relatively safe and not putting up some of their best-known figures for election – so that they can’t be seen to lose too badly.
The Salafist Al-Asalah is seen by some as being extreme and hardline, for example, regarding their rejection of women’s participation in elections. The concerns about other radical Islamist groups in the region generate a degree of nervousness at associating too closely with such groupings.
However, Al-Asalah have a strong reputation for performing well at the municipal level and for being one of the better organized elements within the Parliament in pursuing policies, even if many reject their desire for more “Islamic” laws and regulations.
Meanwhile, the National Unity Gathering which are with Al-Minbar in the Al-Fateh Coalition, have gone out of their way in this elections to present themselves as a more moderate and mainstream grouping. The NUG has strongly backed its two female candidates and has nominated several high-calibre technocratic figures as candidates. Smaller Al-Fateh societies like Al-Wasat and Al-Mithaq have also positioned themselves to attract middle-ground voters.
So although the two Sunni Islamist societies Minbar and Asalah have fielded 11 candidates, the most seats they can both win is eight, because they compete against each other in three locations. Pundits predict that these two societies may win around five of these eight seats between them, which leaves them with exactly what they got in 2010.
However, we should not underestimate these societies which are well-organized, experienced at fighting elections and have strong sources of funding.
The NUG as a new political society can’t be blamed for perceived failings of the previous Parliament, but as a new organization, they can’t claim long-standing grassroots support. We can perhaps envisage them winning three of the seven seats they are contesting, with perhaps a seat or two for Al-Wasat and Al-Mithaq.
This would produce a Parliament with around nine seats for the Al-Fateh (Minbar, NUG, Mithaq) and Al-Asalah political societies, which leaves independents dominant with three-quarters of the parliamentary seats.
Because of the political societies’ strategy for fighting the elections – focusing on a limited number of relatively safe seats, they have guaranteed that they cannot emerge dominant in Parliament.
However, these societies understand the public mood and one could argue that their failure to field more candidates is based on their realization that the Bahraini public is looking for new faces and new solutions to the old problems of housing, unemployment and services.
Societies compete against independents for eastern Muharraq
Lying to the northeast corner of the island of Muharraq, the 5th Muharraq constituency has the smallest number of registered voters in the Governorate.
The north of this constituency is built on recently reclaimed land, including the trendy Amwaj islands. The population is of these areas is predominantly middle class and cosmopolitan. However, much of the population resides in the southern parts of this constituency, centred around the older working class areas of Qalali.
Independent incumbent Mahmoud al-Mahmoud will be hoping to retain his seat, but he will have to compete against several independents and a National Unity Gathering candidate, Sami al-Shaer. Khalid Bu-Anq is also seen as a strong contender to Mahmoud, along with Mohammed al-Dakhil and Ibrahim Ali, who have all entered elections contests in the past. Therefore the key question is likely to be which two candidates make it into the second round.
Prior to 2011 the 6th Muharraq district had been held by Al-Wefaq, before being won by an independent candidate Abbas al-Madhi in the by-election that year. This is the only Muharraq constituency with a Shia majority. The significant opposition population which may in part decide to boycott makes the direction of the vote difficult to predict. However, several figures from the local Shia community have spoken out against the boycott.
Independent MP Abbas al-Madhi has decided to stand again, despite his home being regularly attacked by opposition militants wielding firebombs. He said that he would not be deterred by such attacks. Nabil al-Ashiri has also been an active campaigner with his statements regularly appearing in the media.
The 7th Muharraq district of Arad has the highest number of registered voters out of all the constituencies in Bahrain, at 13,204. Arad has a predominantly Sunni working class demographic. Commentators are divided on whether this contest will be dominated by the political groupings or whether independent and technocratic figures will be more appealing to the voters.
Sunni societies Al-Asalah and Al-Minbar are going head-to-head in this constituency. However, they face stiff competition from a number of prominent independent figures.
Former MP Nasir al-Fadhalah – Minbar’s candidate – is a local political heavyweight who has been campaigning hard and seems to have been one of the first in the district to open his campaign HQ; along with Al-Watan’s Badr al-Hamadi, who is also fighting a strong, well-organized and well-publicized campaign. Al-Watan is the newly formed “liberal” political society, including several notable business figures and technocrats.
There are also several other high-calibre independent figures, including a former head of the Muharraq Municipal Council and a senior former Finance Ministry official.
The 8th Muharraq district of Hidd contains large industrial and port facilities. There is a mixed working-class population and many new residential areas. There is also a north-south divide in this locality, which commentators have noted as a strong factor in who voters get behind.
Until a 2012 by-election, the 8th Muharraq district had been held by the Salafi Al-Asalah society, before being replaced by independent MP Samir Khadim, who now faces a representative from the Sunni society, Al-Saff, and just one other independent candidate.
Khadim will be hoping that his incumbency and local popularity give him the edge in what is by far the smallest contest in Muharraq in terms of numbers of candidates. Khadim hails from northern Hidd, which according to local pundits guarantees him a substantial proportion of support from those areas; whereas Abdulrahman Bu-Ali is a southerner and so also enjoys a near-guaranteed support base, in an area where kinship ties and local solidarity are crucial.
With these two candidates looking to the residents of respectively the north and south areas as a guaranteed support base, Bughamar is said to be able to count on the affiliates of certain political societies for his support.
Most factors mark out Khadim as the favourite; but with Bu-Ali and (to a lesser extent) Bughamar being guaranteed a respectable proportion of votes, this may well push this contest to a second round.
Areas covered: Northeast Muharraq; Amwaj Islands; Qalali
Number of candidates: 10
Registered voters: 7,199
Mahmoud yousif Mahmoud Abdullah al-Mahmoud – Incumbent
Al-Mahmoud: “Those who regard the previous Parliament as weak are wrong. Deputies were able to prevent the downfall [of the Parliament] during the crisis Bahrain has undergone, making this an exceptional assembly.”
Al-Mahmoud has talked about the importance of partnership between the private and public sectors to address the housing issue, citing the example of Diyar Muharraq which is to provide 20,000 housing units.
Mahmoud was the chairman of the “independents block” in the previous Parliament and deputy chairman for the Financial Committee. Mahmoud told Al-Watan newspaper that the revised constituency borders in Muharraq had resulted in more sensible arrangements and would improve chances for the election of “competent” deputies.
Al-Mahmoud is one of the more familiar contenders in using the social media, for example, running a Q&A session via Twitter.
Sami Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah al-Shaer –NUG
Al-Shaer is competing on the National Unity Gathering list, which is part of the Al-Fateh Coalition.
Al-Shaer has called for more support for the local Qalali sports club. He said that Qalali in general had not received the support it deserved and said that his candidacy was primarily focused on supporting the local community.
Al-Shaer has recently been questioning the authorities about why projects for developing Qalali have been held up, despite receiving official approval. @sami_alshaer
Khalid Saleh Ahmed Bu-Anq
Bu-Anq, the current municipal councilor for 4th Muharraq launched a strong attack against the Muharraq Municipality for “targeting the people of Qalali”, claiming that measures had been taken by the Municipality “for pure electoral purposes”. He said that issues relating to agriculture and local businesses had existed for years, “so why had punitive action only been taken now?” Bu-Anq has previously contested these elections.
Muhammed Jassim Mohammed al-Dakhil
Al-Dakhil: The boundary changes “stir up the stagnant water in the area”. Al-Dakhil emphasized “reform and change” and noted that the competition in the 5th district was likely to be “hot”. Al-Dakhil is a previous candidate.
Ibrahim Ahmed Ibrahim Ali
Ibrahim has been critical of the Interior Ministry’s handling of the post 2011 crisis. He promised to promote human rights if his candidacy was successful and strengthening the principles of the 2002 constitution, as well as opposing all those who “incited violence and hatred”.
Ibrahim has a Masters in Diplomatic Studies from Westminster University. He is a former diplomat and currently works in banking. This is not his first candidacy attempt. @eali
Abdulaziz Mohammed Khalifa al-Majid
Businessman Al-Majid has criticized the performance of previous parliamentary deputies saying that if MPs had gone about their work with commitment and responsibility then Bahrain by now would have enjoyed “1,000 blessings”. @vote4almajed @vote4him_
Jamal Saad Salim Rashid
Jamal Saad is the Secretary-General of Qalali Club. He is an independent, but expressed his readiness to work with other groupings. He mentioned education, health and housing as among his priorities.
Saad has also stressed the importance of “social justice, improving wage levels and eliminating class divisions” in his public statements.
Saad’s campaign literature highlights support for “widows, divorcees, orphans and those with special needs, to promote the things that will preserve your dignity”. @jamal_alsaad_1
Mohammed Hassan Rashid al-Jowder
Al-Jowder has proposed opening the first academy of its kind in Bahrain for the disabled. He said such support would help the disabled play a greater role in society, which in turn would benefit the national economy.
Al-Jowder stressed the importance of investing in human capital and achieving social justice. Al-Jowder promised to set up the first local “majlis” in his district dedicated to hearing the concerns and aspirations of young people, in order that appropriate parts of Bahrain’s administration could be made to hear these concerns. @m_h_aljowder_
Ahmed Abdulrahman Hassan Mohammed Salim al-Mannai
Mannai, who hails from the medical profession, has put health issues towards the top of his priorities: Preventative medicine, reducing cases of food poisoning, protecting consumers and raising awareness about medical issues. He has also highlighted educational issues, such as better-preparing graduates for the jobs market. @a_almannai_2014
Mohammed Ali Ali al-Faraj
Mohammed had been tipped to be standing in the 3rd Muharraq district, before confirming his address as 5th Muharraq.
Areas covered: Dair & Samaheej
Number of candidates: 4
Registered voters: 7,762
Abbas Isa Ali Hassan al-Madhi – Incumbent
Al-Madhi is a former deputy who registered at the last minute for the contest. He won his seat unopposed in the 2011 by-election.
He cited the importance of “accumulated experience” for serving in Parliament, noting that his previous presidency of the Services Committee qualified him to play a useful role in future legislation.
Al-Madhi has listed the improvement of living standards and reducing public debt as the key priorities for the coming Parliament.
Al-Madhi refused to confirm the size of his campaign budget, but said that candidates required at least 10,000 BD ($27,000) for a successful campaign.
Dr. Nabil Ahmed Yousif Ahmed al-Ashiri
Al-Ashiri has pledged to assist low-income families, as well as focusing on “health, education and housing for citizens and a commitment to increasing their incomes”. Al-Ashiri wants to promote the public health sector to ensure a high standard of services available to all.
Al-Ashiri has called on the Department of Trade and Industry to put controls on the prices of basic goods “which have reached prices we can’t remain silent about”.
Al-Ashiri has criticized the planning of local housing projects in Dair and Samaheej, which he said had been given lower prioritization in comparison with other parts of Muharraq. @NAlashiri
Hassan Ahmed Ali al-Samaheeji
Al-Samaheej is a respected media figure from a prominent local family. He has so far had little coverage of his campaign outside the local area.
Abbas Ali Ali Isa al-Faraj
Al-Faraj has yet to appear in the media confirming his election platform. Presumably Mohammed al-Faraj contesting 5th Muharraq is his brother.
Areas covered: Arad
Number of candidates: 9
Registered voters: 13,204
Ali Yaqoub Yousif Mohammed al-Muqla – Asalah
Al-Muqallah: “I have expended all my efforts in the service of Muharraq. I trust in the awareness of citizens who make up the support base of Al-Asalah Society in the constituency. I have been a municipal councilor, now I aspire to represent the area as a deputy”.
Nasir al-Shaikh Abdullah Masir al-Fadhalah – Minbar
Al-Fadhalah is a leading member of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Al-Minbar society and represented the same constituency during the 2006-2010 Parliament. Al-Fadhalah said that improving housing provision in the Arad area was his priority.
“Arad is historically linked to both Al-Minbar al-Islami and Al-Asalah Society and the local people are linked to these two societies;” said Al-Fadhalah to Al-Ayam. @nsfadala
Badr Sultan Ali Hassan al-Hammadi – Al-Watan
Al-Hammadi – a lawyer and former police officer now working in the legal profession – is a founder member of Al-Watan, the political society which claims to be a moderate voice aspiring for a united Bahrain. However, Al-Hammadi is technically standing as an independent candidate.
Al-Hammadi’s campaign also stresses “fighting terrorism and extremist ideology and protecting our national sovereignty”. Commentators have noted Al-Hamadi’s strong local support base. Al-Hamadi was soundly defeated by Nasir al-Fadhalah in 2006 (57 votes to 3,008!) @Bader_Alhammadi
Mohammed Mubarak Mohammed al-Sulaiti
Al-Saliti – a former Finance Ministry official – has confirmed that the economy would be his priority. “I will concentrate on improving quality of life through increasing income for individual Bahrainis and creating new job opportunities”, Al-Saliti told Al-Ayam newspaper. Al-Sulaiti has been active in engaging with local civil society to promote his campaign.
Mohammed Bin-Isa Abdullah al-Wazzan
The former head of the local Municipal Council told journalists that his four years of experience on the council had prepared him for serving in Parliament. @alwazzanmohamed
Khalid Ibrahim Jassim Mohammed
Journalist Ibrahim said that his campaign would focus on Bahrainis working together to fight corruption and create a better future for upcoming generations. His slogan is “Together we can” which he is promoting through Twitter and the social media.
Khalid said that the time had come to give greater support for promoting “capable and qualified candidates” representing the youth to political positions. He said that reducing the public debt needed to be a priority for the next Parliament.
Adel Abdullah Ghanim Bin-Hindi al-Mannai
In a video interview, independent candidate Adel Bin-Hindi said that improving living standards for pensioners and handling the housing issue were among his priorities.
Dr. Abdulrahman Rashid Yousif Rashid al-Khashram
Independent candidate Dr Abdullah al-Khashram is a prominent legal expert. However, in the early phases of the elections campaign his campaign has been low key.
Muhammad Halal Abdullah al-Mulla
Muhammed al-Mulla has so far gained little media coverage for his campaign.
Areas covered: Southern Muharraq; Hidd
Number of candidates: 3
Registered voters: 9,065
Samir Abdullah Abdulrahman Ahmed Khadim – Incumbent
Independent candidate Samir Khadim arrived in Parliament after a 2012 by-election to replace Al-Asalah MP Ghanim al-Buainain. There is said to be widespread local satisfaction at Khadim’s performance as a deputy since 2012, particularly his care to maintain close relations with local constituents.
Khadim was also a municipal councilor for four years and his family controls the locally-significant Hidd Club. So he can count on his supporters in northern Hidd, in addition to others in the area who see him as a competent representative.
Having contested four previous rounds of municipal and parliamentary elections, Samir Khadim is an experienced campaigner with a strong group around him who can canvass support.
Furthermore, Khadim is also said to count on the support of the powerful Asalah and Minbar Sunni societies, as well as the affiliation of two of the municipal candidates. @Sameer_Voice
Abdulrahman Ali Abdulrahman Bu-Ali
In the 2012 by-election Samir Khadim only narrowly beat Abdulrahman Bu-Ali, with Bu-Ali gaining 47% in the second round of the vote.
Bu-Ali has urged voters to play a more active role in monitoring the parliamentary activity of elected MPs and censuring deputies who fail to perform effectively. Bu-Ali is a committee member for significant local youth clubs.
Bu-Ali enjoyed the support of the Salafist Al-Asalah Society during past elections contests, as well as having close ties with local cultural associations, intellectuals and local elites. @a_a_buali
Abdullah Khalil Yousif Ibrahim Bughamar – Al-Saff
Bughamar is representing the Sunni Islamic Al-Saff Society, as well as being a founding member of the National Coalition for Political Societies, which means that he can look for support to members of the National Action Charter Society, Al-Saff, the National Unity Gathering and the National Dialogue Society for support.
Bughamar gained just 55 votes standing against Abdulhalim Murad, contesting a Central Governorate seat in 2010. Despite his undoubted local connections, in comparison to the other two candidates, Bughamar may be seen as something of an outsider and suffer accordingly at the ballot box. @qhammar