Some 68 percent of Bahraini voters turned out for parliamentary elections on October 23, fewer than the 72 percent who voted in 2006 but still a large turnout in view of the ongoing crackdown on the opposition.  One hundred twenty-seven candidates contended for 35 seats; 5 other seats were uncontested. The Shi’i opposition political society al-Wefaq won all 18 seats (one more than in the 2006 elections) it contested, remaining the single largest group in parliament. It remains unclear whether al-Wefaq will be able to attain a majority in parliament (21 seats) through additional wins or alliances with independents or other groups. Nine seats will go to run-off elections on October 30, two of them contested by the liberal Wa’d, which in the past has allied itself with al-Wefaq. Sunni Islamist groups al-Asala and al-Minbar made a poor showing, together winning only 3 seats so far (7 more are in runoffs) as compared to 15 in 2006.

Bahrain’s higher council for elections used transparent ballot boxes as well as electronic chips in ballot papers in order to reduce the likelihood of electoral fraud. In addition, 379 local observers were present, but the government refused to permit Arab or foreign monitors. The opposition has said that 2,000 voters were turned away from polling stations after being told that their names were not on voting lists, while government representatives say that the lists were published in August.

The elections took place within the context of a broad crackdown on human rights and Shi’i organizations in recent months. Bahraini authorities have arrested 23 prominent Shi’i opposition activists since August, alleging that they were plotting a coup. Their trial will begin on October 28 amid allegations of torture. The government has also taken substantial steps towards curbing the freedom of opposition-affiliated media, including websites and newsletters. Human Rights Watch has described the circumstances in Bahrain as “a return to full-blown authoritarianism” where the “government has taken over associations and shut down media it doesn’t like to silence the loudest critics and intimidate the rest” and chided the United States for saying nothing publicly.