Bahrainis Begin Voting in Referendum to Restore Democracy
Bahrainis began voting Wednesday in a referendum expected to produce a landslide in favor of a national charter to restore democracy to the Gulf state of Bahrain 26 years after parliament was scrapped, reported AFP.
Some 217,000 people, or more than half the number of Bahrainis, have the right to vote "yes" or "no" to the charter which will turn the archipelago into a constitutional monarchy.
Polling centers opened at eight a.m. (0500 GMT), will close at seven p.m. (1600 GMT) and re-open for a second day on Thursday, said press reports.
State employees are called on to vote on Wednesday and the remainder the following day.
Bahrain's emir, Sheikh Hamad al-Issa al-Khalifa, on Tuesday ordered the release of the last batch of political prisoners, the final move in a series of liberalization measures which has won opposition support for the referendum, reported the Bahrain Tribune newspaper.
According to Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa, the political reforms are “designed to ensure prosperity and freedom for all’ and have effectively put the opposition “out of a job.”
“The referendum,“ he continued “marks the culmination of a liberalization process the emir launched after the death of his father, Sheikh Issa, in March 1999.
Shiite leader Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri, who spent years in jail, said the opposition will vote for the charter because "we are convinced it will reestablish the constitution, restore democracy and turn a new page," according to the Tribune.
The emir declared a political amnesty last week, which also allowed the return of exiled dissidents.
The Shiites represent approximately 60 percent of the population – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)