As Expected, Bahrain’s Parliamentary Elections Were Neither Free Nor Fair

26 November 2018 – This past weekend, on 24 November 2018, Bahrain held elections for the 40 seats of the lower house of parliament. As expected, these elections occurred with severe restrictions placed on civil and political society by the Bahraini government. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) strongly condemns Bahrain’s sham elections and urges the international community not to legitimize Bahrain’s elections with unwarranted praise.

Prior to the elections, the international community, including US Congress, the European Parliament, and the UK,  Irish and Italian Parliament, raised concerns regarding the political environment in Bahrain ahead of elections. Collectively, they called on the Bahraini government to meet certain criteria in order for the elections to be deemed free and fair.

The elections, held this past Saturday in Bahrain, met none of the criteria outlined by the international community. The opposition was effectively banned from fully participating in the elections. All of the major opposition societies remained forcibly dissolved and new legislation banned anyone who had belonged to one of these political groups from ever seeking elected office. Likewise, the legislation banned anyone who has served six months or more in prison from holding office. This affected a large portion of the population, given that around 4,000 political prisoners remain in jail, including Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of one of the major opposition societies that was forcibly dissolved. Sheikh Ali Salman had been sentenced to life in prison just weeks before the elections on bogus ‘espionage’ charges dating back to 2011.

Furthermore, historically, the gerrymandering of electoral districts in Bahrain has diluted the influence of Bahrain’s Shia majority population, and polling district lines did not improve prior to the elections this past weekend. Additionally, Bahrain’s elections occurred with no truly independent election monitors or observers who could ensure a fair election or warn of irregularities, fraud, or bad practices. Bahrain also clamped down on free expression in the lead up to its parliamentary elections, criminalizing calls to boycott the elections. Former Member of Parliament Ali Rashed al-Asheeri was arrested the week before the elections by Bahraini authorities in relation to tweets that the government deemed “critical of the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections.”

“The elections should have been an opportunity for the Bahraini government to ease tensions and open up civil and political space,” says ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “We are deeply disappointed that they wasted this opportunity, and instead held elections in an environment that is the most restrictive we have seen in years. These elections in no way should be considered legitimate because the environment in Bahrain was nowhere near conducive to free and fair elections.”

Bahrain’s elections on 24 November did not represent a democratic process deserving of praise. ADHRB condemns Bahrain’s inability to meet the criteria laid out by the international community prior to elections to ensure the elections would be free and fair. Elections with no opposition participation and a restricted civil society are not legitimate and ADHRB urges the international community to condemn Bahrain’s electoral process.