MANAMA – Bahrain's main Shia opposition party will boycott next month's special parliamentary elections for seats left vacant by mass resignations to protest a crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, a senior opposition official said Friday.
An election snub by the group Al-Wefaq would be a serious blow to efforts by Bahrain's Sunni monarchy to portray stability in the strategic island kingdom, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet. But Bahrain remains bitterly divided after months of unrest and clashes between security forces and protesters seeking greater rights for the country's majority Shias.
Al-Wefaq envoys walked out of reconciliation talks last month after claiming they were insulted by pro-government officials. The 24 September ballot was called after Al-Wefaq 18 lawmakers resigned in March – a month after Shias began protests inspired by other Arab uprisings.
Shias represent about 70 percent of the population, but are denied top political and security jobs. Protesters also demand that Bahrain's more than 200-year-old Sunni dynasty loosen its control on top government posts. More than 30 people have died and hundreds have been arrested or purged from jobs in the crackdown on the opposition.
Moments after Al-Wefaq official Khalil al-Marzooq announced the planned election boycott at a rally, the crowd chanted: "No going back after our sacrifices."
Washington has denounced the violence in Bahrain, but has held back on any direct pressure against leaders in one of the Pentagon's key Gulf allies.
In recent weeks, protesters and security forces have engaged in near nightly street skirmishes. On Thursday, authorities blocked roads leading to Pearl Square, a former protest hub in the capital Manama, after demonstrators tried to stage a march to the site.