Authorities in Bahrain decided on Saturday to annul electronic voting planned for later this year after opposition parties said such methods aim to rig the vote and disenfranchise the country's Shiite majority, a Cabinet minister said. The announcement was made by Sheik Ahmed bin Atiyatallah Al Khalifa, Bahrain's minister of state for cabinet affairs, after a meeting of several political parties _ some of which complained electronic voting was unfair. Seven other organizations opposed to electronic voting boycotted the meeting.
"For the national interest, we have asked the executive director of the elections not to implement electronic voting in the 2006 elections and to implement the mechanism used in 2002," Al Khalifa said after the meeting.
Some officials, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the decision not to implement electronic voting in the Nov. 25 parliamentary and municipal elections was made by King Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Elections were originally scheduled for May, then postponed indefinitely until an announcement was made Friday, setting the date for November.
Ibrahim Sharif, head of the National Democratic Action which boycotted Saturday's meeting, said, "Those who accept electronic voting are those whose ideas are similar to that of the state, and they benefit. (They are) those don't want democracy anyway." He was referring to pro-government groups.
The decision also came a day after a small group of Bahraini youths clashed with riot police who fired tear gas and rubber bullets as thousands of other protesters demonstrated peacefully to urge the government to stop granting citizenship to migrants ahead of the elections.
The demonstrators alleged the Sunni Muslim government's program to naturalize migrants was designed to block opposition from the majority Shiite voters and threaten ongoing efforts to reduce unemployment.
Opposition leaders have asked for an investigation into a report distributed by a former government consultant who was expelled from the country last week. The Al-Bandar report suggested that a senior government official was masterminding a plan to use accelerated naturalization and electronic voting, among other tactics, to rig the election and disenfranchise Shiites.
In 2002, Bahrain held elections to restore its parliament, which had been dissolved in 1975, as part of reforms spearheaded by the king.