7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Local News

Bid to disrupt poll traffic rapped

RIGHTS groups have blasted plans to disrupt Bahrain's transport network as thousands of people prepare to go to the polls on Saturday.

An anonymous group is spearheading an online campaign that calls on anti-government protesters to block roads and highways with their cars from Wednesday.

The group's stated aim is to block the country's main financial areas and restrict trade activity, but rights campaigners have accused organisers of trying to intimidate voters with by-elections just days away.

Being advertised as a "Bahrain blockade", it is specifically targeting roads in Manama, Exhibition Avenue, the King Faisal Causeway and the Diplomatic Area - some of Bahrain's key trade hubs.

Organisers are calling on people to take part during rush hour traffic from 7am to 10am on Wednesday, but have not announced timings for protests on other days.

They say they want an elected government, more powers for parliament, new electoral constituencies, a more independent judiciary and combating of discrimination.

However, rights activists say the fact that the protests coincide with by-elections suggests they are intended to prevent people from practising their right to vote.

"It is the right for every individual or group to boycott or participate in elections, but stopping others from practising their political rights is unfair," said Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society activities and campaign head Salman Naser.

"We are against such calls that prevent voters from casting their ballots. This is the time for opposition societies and leaders to step in and defuse the escalating situation."

Mr Naser last week conducted a meeting at Budaiya Charity Fund where he urged people to ignore calls to boycott the by-election, in which candidates will contest for 14 seats in parliament.

Those seats were among 18 vacated by members of the opposition group Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, who resigned in February in solidarity with anti-government protests.

Four of those seats have already been filled by candidates whose competitors have pulled out of the election race.

Al Wefaq is boycotting the by-election, while candidates who are taking part have complained of being threatened and targeted.

Bahrain Human Rights Society secretary-general Dr Abdulla Al Deerazi told the GDN that any form of intimidation of voters or candidates was unacceptable.

He also accused opposition groups of tailoring human rights to suit their own agendas.

"We at the society denounce boycott calls as it is important for everyone to respect democracy and human rights," he said.

"Imposing ideas is against freedom of expression and opposing groups or individuals should not tailor human rights principles according to their needs."

However, despite an attack on the home of one of the newly-elected MPs and reports that other candidates had been threatened, an election spokesman said there would be no drastic increase in security as voters go to the polls.

"Everything remains the same, similar to the last election in terms of security," he said.

"There are no metal detectors and voters will not be frisked before entering polling stations."

The Elections Supreme Committee has announced two additional polling centres at Adhari Park and BDF Hospital, where people from any constituency can vote.

This means they can cast their ballot in a neutral area if they are worried about voting in their own constituency.

Five similar polling centres are located at Bahrain International Airport (Muharraq Governorate), King Fahad Causeway (Northern Governorate), Bahrain International Circuit (Southern Governorate), Bahrain City Centre (Capital Governorate) and the Education Ministry in Isa Town (Central Governorate).

The GDN reported on September 6 that extra polling centres were on the cards following requests from candidates and voters, fearing retaliation from those boycotting the elections. [email protected]

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