Manama: The 2018 parliamentary and municipal elections are shaping up to be a historic year for Bahrain with a record number of candidates and the highest number of women running for office. The unprecedented number of young people participating in the polls also stands out, justice minister and head of the elections Shaikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Khalifa said. Bahrain's Justice Minister also said that election turnout was at 67 per cent, reported state TV.
The 40-constituency polling stations and the 15 general polling stations opened on time at 8am to accommodate the queues of people who braved the sun to cast their ballots early.
40Constituency and 15 general polling stations in operation
General polling stations were set to ease the voting process for voters from all constituencies.
According to official figures, 365,467 eligible voters are listed to cast their ballots in the fifth quadrennial parliamentary and municipal elections since 2002, the year of the promulgation of the constitution that allowed women to vote and run in national polls.
365467voters eligible to cast their ballots in the elections
At 8:30am, the general polling station at the Seef Mall on the outskirts of the capital Manama was filled with voters.
Long queues of men and women could be seen winding its way to the voting area where polling workers welcomed them, directed them to counters where their names were verified before they were handed the sheets with the names and pictures of the candidates. Voters walked to a secluded area where they ticked the name of their favourite contestant, folded the paper and placed it in the designated box.
The operation took less than a minute, under the watchful eyes of observers and monitors, allowing the queue to move forward.
Polling workers could be seen assisting physically handicapped voters by pushing their wheelchairs to the box and lowering it to them so that they could themselves cast their ballots.
“It was a really smooth process and besides participating in a fine exercise of democracy, I was pleased to see the genuine benevolent character of Bahrainis in assisting one another,” Esmail Khalid, a retired Bahraini, told Gulf News.
Khalid came with his wife and daughter who shared his enthusiasm about actively participating in the democratic process.
“The general polling stations are a blessing when you cannot stand in long queues for long times.”
Hassan Madani, the Deputy Governor of the Capital, said he was pleased to come in the morning and take part in the election process.
“Elections are a great opportunity that reflects our will and commitment to democracy and to electing our representatives,” he said.
Candidates and their representatives at the stations could not comment as electoral rules ban them from making statements 24 hours before Election Day and until the polls are over.
Visits to other polling stations in Muharraq, the Northern Governorate and the Southern Governorate showed the same spirit as voters felt empowered to select the people who will represent them in the next parliament and municipal councils.
Shaikh Khalid early on Saturday warned voters not to heed mobile messages that sought to mislead voters into believing their names had been deleted and could not, therefore, cast their ballots, urging them to avoid going to polling stations.
“These messages are not genuine and should be ignored. The authorities are currently dealing with those who sent them,” he said.
Addressing reporters at the media centre, Hala Al Ansari, the secretary general of the Supreme Council for Women, the body tasked with elevating the status in the kingdom, said that she was optimistic a woman would soon head the legislative branch.
“Women possess great potential and have accumulated experience over years of democracy progress in Bahrain,” she said. “There is tremendous support for women.”
The count of the ballots will start right after the polling stations are closed at 8pm, and the results are expected to come very late or on Sunday morning.
Candidates who secure more than 50 per cent of the ballots will be declared winners and elected to the Council of Representatives. If no candidate achieves the score, a second round will be held on Saturday, December 1, between the two with the highest vote share.
All eyes will be focused on the number of women who will be elected over the two rounds.
The outgoing Council of Representatives had three women.