Bahrain’s main Shiite party boycotts parliament

MANAMA (AP) — Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition party boycotted the king’s inauguration of parliament Friday, protesting what it called the “marginalisation” of the country’s Shiite majority.

The leader of Wefaq, which won 43 per cent of the assembly’s 40 seats in the November elections, said the party might boycott working sessions of the parliament unless the government addresses its demands.

Sheikh Ali Salman said the party’s members had decided on Friday’s boycott, “and it might go on depending on developments”. He warned the parliament might “lose its legitimacy” if it held sessions indefinitely without the participation of Wefaq legislators.

A media consultant to the king, Nabil Hamar, told Jazeera television: “We regret this boycott.” Hamar said the government had delayed the first working session of parliament in the hope that Wefaq would reconsider.

“We call on the brothers in Wefaq to take part.

“Postponing the session to Tuesday was to give the brothers a chance to join it,” Hamar said in a phone interview. Wefaq accused the government of depriving Shiites of their rights, in particular the post of parliamentary speaker. Shiites amount to more than 60 per cent of Bahrain’s 700,000 people and have long complained they are squeezed out of power by the Sunni monarchy.

“Although Wefaq won 17 seats out of 40, the government formed a coalition among the other lawmakers to obtain a bigger block that had the right to elect the speaker,” said Abdul-Hadi Khawaja of the Bahraini Centre for Human Rights, which is linked to Wefaq.

In a statement before the inauguration, Wefaq said it would stage a boycott because of the “marginalisation policies that are being implemented in line with what had been revealed last September by Salah Bandar.” A report distributed earlier this year by a former government consultant, Salah Bandar, alleged that top government officials were using accelerated naturalisation and electronic voting, among other tactics, to rig the November elections in favour of the minority Sunnis.

The report, which came to be known as “Bandargate”, made big waves in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom which hosts the US navy’s Fifth Fleet.

The government denied the report’s allegations. It charged Bandar, a Sunni, with sedition and expelled him from the country.

Wefaq says that those responsible for the alleged plot to rig the elections have either been promoted or reinstated, and none have been punished. Salman said that for Wefaq’s legislators to take their seats in parliament, the government would have to punish those responsible for Bandargate, hold a new election for speaker, and dismiss what he called the “unqualified” ministers in the Cabinet.

“We hope that there will be an agreement,” Salman said in a phone interview.

Following the November 25 elections and December  2 run-off, an election monitor in Bahrain said there was “circumstantial evidence” that pro-government Sunnis used fraud to win a majority of the seats in the parliament.

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