As Bahrain prepares for a by-election on September 24th, al-Wefaq, Bahrain's largest opposition group, announced it will boycott the elections.
The boycott raises questions about the fate of parliament in an election to replace 18 al-Wefaq members who resigned in February at the height of political demonstrations against the government.
Al-Wefaq announced its plan to boycott on August 12th.
The competition is now under way to win the largest share of 187,080 votes in 18 electoral districts. Candidates have a three-day window to enter the elections from Monday (August 22nd) to Wednesday.
Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary-general of al-Wefaq, said during an August 17th press conference that the decision to boycott is "an institutional decision", and denied it was issued by Sheikh Issa Qassem, al-Wefaq's spiritual guide.
Al-Wefaq is the second opposition society to announce plans to boycott the next parliament after the National Democratic Action Society (Waad).
Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, minister of justice and Islamic affairs and endowments who chairs a committee supervising the elections, said during a press conference last week, "Political life in Bahrain continues and is not waiting for a decision to participate or boycott."
He added, "Whoever wants to boycott, this is their decision and their decision only, but for it to become a public matter where pressure is placed on the will of the voters, this is unacceptable."
Abdul Jalil Khalil, an al-Wefaq leader and head of the bloc that resigned from the House of Representatives, told Al-Shorfa that participating in the by-elections would constitute "extending the current crisis and further complicating the kingdom's political problems".
Khalil added, "The problem is not about the number of seats in parliament as much as it about finding solutions to the political crisis that hit Bahrain. There are 33 dead, 400 injured, 3,000 separated from work and 48 mosques destroyed. There was a greater need for a serious dialogue."
Khalil emphasised al-Wefaq's commitment to its demands for an elected government approved by parliament and to the call for another national dialogue that is "more serious [and] not consumed by formalities," adding that al-Wefaq is continuing its weekly activities to assert its demands.
Security authorities released 147 detainees earlier this month who had been arrested against the backdrop of recent events in the Kingdom, including two al-Wefaq members.
Hakim Shammari, a former candidate in the 2010 parliamentary elections, said the government set higher standards for management of the by-elections in accordance with what he called advanced, transparent frameworks and under the supervision of neutral parties.
Asked about al-Wefaq's boycott, Shammari said, "The people who made the decision are responsible for it, and this party must deal with the outcome of its decision. Democracy varies according to time and place in emerging countries such as Bahrain, and the implications cannot be compared to the boycott by a particular segment or party in the case of developed states."
He said, "History has shown that an opposition boycott is marred by a kind of manipulation and interference by elements from outside the kingdom who are seeking to influence the decision to participate or withdrawal."
Regarding the opposition’s move to escalate activity on the street, Shammari said it was "a stain on the opposition's forehead, which adopted the methods of bandits and pirates on the streets to provoke the centres of political decision-making."
Judge Khalid Ajaji, a member of the committee supervising the elections, said the committee will handle management logistics, ensure that every voter arrives at the ballot box freely, and ensure that each voter's choice represents his will and is recorded to the candidate he selected.
He stressed the importance of monitoring and obtaining support from civil society institutions, aided by judges and the election committee, to ensure integrity and transparency during the elections, he said.