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Bahrain Voters Ignore Call to Boycott Elections - 2002-10-24

For the first time since Bahrain's parliament was dissolved in 1975, voters in the tiny Gulf kingdom are going to the polls for legislative elections. Early voter turnout suggests Bahrainis are ignoring a call to boycott the elections.

Voters are choosing from among 177 candidates competing for 40 seats in parliament. Eight of the candidates are women.

This is the first time women are being allowed to vote and run for national office in the Gulf region.

The new parliament will have 80 members. Half of them will be elected and the rest will be appointed to a consultative council by the king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Supporters are hailing the elections as an important step toward democracy, while others say they do not go far enough.

Some Shiite Muslim groups called for a boycott, angry that the consultative council will have as much power as the elected assembly.

Bahrain went through a period of turbulence in the 1990s, when Shiite groups pressed for political changes. But since taking the throne in 1999, the king has managed to quiet the movement by pardoning more than 1,000 political prisoners and introducing political reforms.