- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

MANAMA, Bahrain Voters cast ballots yesterday in Bahrain's first election for representative bodies in nearly 30 years another step in the Persian Gulf nation's transformation from absolute monarchy to democracy.
It was also the first time that Bahraini women were allowed to vote and run for office.
Across the country, people clamored to vote in the election for municipal council members, with men and women waiting in long, separate lines in keeping with the country's conservative Islamic traditions.
"Let me in, let me in," shouted 80-year-old Maryam Mohammed Yousuf at a polling center in the capital, Manama, that failed to open on time. Leaning on a metal walking stick and a younger female relative, Mrs. Yousuf peered through a black chador. The head-to-toe robe was worn by most female voters.
"As a loyal citizen I've been waiting for this opportunity all my life," Mrs. Yousuf said. "This is a new birth for the nation, this is very, very, very, good."
Electoral officials said the turnout was heavier than expected but did not immediately release figures. Complete results were not expected before today.
More than 200,000 residents were eligible to vote, including citizens of the neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council states and foreigners owning property in the kingdom. Bahrain has a population of 650,000 people. Of the 300 or so candidates, 30 are women.
One female candidate, Badriya Ali, said she felt exhausted but exhilarated after greeting voters throughout the day at a polling station in Hidd, about 12 miles from the capital.
"I am totally exhausted and nervous, but it's all fun," said the 42-year-old mother of five who ran against five male candidates. "The competition was tough, but I think I have received a lot of support today and, God willing, I will win."
A candidate must win more than 50 percent of the votes in their districts to be elected.
The leap toward democracy yesterday was being closely watched throughout the Gulf. Bahrain's eastern neighbor, Qatar, is the only other Gulf Arab state that allows women to run for office. Kuwait also holds elections, but it bars women from running for office.
Bahrain's municipal elections were part of a process initiated by the king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Khalifa, last year to transform the Gulf island nation from a traditional emirate, where he held absolute power, to a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament.
"This is the first light and we hope that it leads us to a brighter future," said Hassan Mushaima, a former dissident who voted in Daih, south of the capital. "It was a great experience and we are eagerly looking forward to the parliamentary elections."
Bahrain, which became independent from Britain in 1971, last held elections for a representative body in 1973. The people then voted for the National Assembly, but the assembly was dissolved two years later.


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