Bahrain confirmed a 73 per cent record voter turnout in its biggest parliamentary election yet on Saturday, in which more than 500 candidates vied for the 40-seat National Assembly and 30-seat municipal council.
The high number of candidates led to a need for run-offs in many electoral districts, with only six candidates able to win outright by getting more than 50 per cent of votes.
The second round of voting between the two highest-polling candidates in 34 districts will be held next Saturday.
The next parliament could include 10 women, up from six currently, as incumbent Zainab Abdelamir was among the six candidates who won outright, while nine other women will be contesting the run-offs.
Eight incumbents, including three women, lost their seats during the first round of voting on Saturday.
“The electoral process went smoothly and witnessed a high turnout, and there were no problems in the organisation, especially since Bahrain has accumulated experiences and competencies in the field of organising elections,” said Nawaf Hamza, chairman of Bahrain’s high elections committee.
Election saboteurs targeted official websites in Bahrain just hours before the start of a parliamentary election, the Interior Ministry said. The ministry did not identify the websites targeted, but the state-run Bahrain News Agency and the website for Bahrain’s Parliament could not be reached online.
“Hackers attempted to sabotage our elections but it was a very weak attempt and thankfully it did not affect any of the electoral process," Justice Minister Nawaf Al Maawda told reporters. "The Bahraini citizen is politically conscious enough to go ahead with the vote and the huge voter turnout is proof of that.”
The participation level in Saturday's vote was the highest in the country’s history since Bahrain became a constitutional monarchy in 2002. Voter turnout in 2018 was 67 per cent.
“Although we are still considered a young democracy, there is a high level of enthusiasm among Bahrainis towards the elections and this is reflected through the high number of candidates,” Mohammed Al Sayed, a founding member of the Citizens for Bahrain website, told The National.
Mr Al Sayed said there was a higher number of candidates in opposition-leaning constituencies, where many stayed away from the elections in 2014 and 2018.
A key issue in this election was VAT, after Bahraini legislators approved a bill last year to double the tax from 5 per cent to 10 per cent, with many of those who voted in favour facing a backlash from their constituents.