Bahrainis go to the polls this Saturday to elect a new parliament, in an election in which the government has not allowed the Shia opposition and its supporters to participate in the electoral process, something that has led several NGOs to describe the elections as "fraudulent".
More than 344,000 citizens will cast their ballots in 55 polling stations across the small island nation of 1.7 million people, less than half of whom are Bahraini nationals, the official Bahraini news agency BNA said.
These elections also saw an all-time record number of candidates: 507, more than double the number of contenders compared to the previous 2018 elections, including 94 women. Candidates are vying for a total of 40 seats in the lower house in an election marked by the opposition's ban on participation in the electoral process, which NGOs estimate will affect up to 11,000 of the kingdom's citizens.
The main Barein opposition group, the Shi'ite Al Wefaq, which has been banned since 2016, announced that it will boycott the elections as "a farce" without the participation of Shi'ite opposition forces. NGOs estimate that some 2,000 people, mostly Shi'a opponents but also human rights activists and critics, are imprisoned in Bahrain, many of them since the 2011 protests calling for reforms in the heat of the Arab Spring.
The elections also come just days after Pope Francis' visit to Bahrain, where he called for respect and the promotion of human rights in the Arab country.
Bahrain has a bicameral system with a total of 80 members. The upper house, called the Shura Council - a consultative body - has 40 members and is appointed directly by the king. The other consists of 40 seats elected at the ballot box, although several human rights organisations complain that the process is far from democratic.
The legislature has very limited capacities and some MPs have expressed concern that laws passed are routinely rejected by the government.