MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Pro-government candidates took the majority of contested seats in Bahrain’s parliamentary election on Sunday, although 13 independent Shiite candidates won mandates despite a boycott by the main opposition group, official results showed.
The Shiites, a majority in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, lost seats compared to the previous vote four years ago, in large part due to the boycott by the al-Wefaq group. In total, only five candidates from established political organizations won seats — the lowest number since elections in 2006.
It was the country’s first full parliamentary elections since Shiite-led protests against the Sunni monarchy erupted in February 2011.
Bahrain’s parliament, or National Assembly, is comprised of 80 seats — 40 royally-appointed in the upper house and 40 elected seats in the lower house. The lower house has limited powers to question ministers. Its members cannot pass laws unless the king signs off.
Among the winners were three women, all of them Shiite. Four seats also went to male candidates from Sunni Islamist blocs, including two from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Menbar group.
The Western-allied Arab nation hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and is part of the U.S.-led coalition striking the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
The United States called the elections “an important opportunity to address the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis” even though some mainstream political groups did not participate, according to a statement released by State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki. She added that the U.S. encouraged the Bahraini government and political organizations “to continue to work towards national reconciliation” and “work in good faith to resolve existing tensions.”
Bahrain has been roiled by low-level unrest over the past nearly four years. Shiites say the government is failing to enact political reforms and address other grievances in the wake of the protests.
Justice Minister Khalid Bin Ali hailed the elections as a sign that citizens want to be represented in parliament and not on the streets.
Al-Wefaq dismissed the elections as a “sham” and said voter turnout did not exceed 30 percent. The government says voter turnout was 52.6 percent.
“Bahrainis deserve a country that they can truly participate in the decision-making of. They do not deserve and will not accept elections that further marginalize them,” the group said in a statement.
The constitution requires that all members of parliament swear loyalty to the country and the king.