MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain’s secular opposition group Waad lost the two seats it contested in a second round election, leaving power in the hands of the ruling Sunni dynasty, results showed on Sunday.
Wefaq, the main opposition group representing the Gulf Arab country’s majority Shi’ites, had hoped victory by Waad would help the two groups win more power for the chamber, overshadowed by an upper house whose members are appointed by the king.
Wefaq won 18 seats in the 40-seat house in the first round a week ago, but Saturday’s second round left pro-government Sunni parties and largely pro-government independents in a majority.
The country is ruled by the al-Khalifa dynasty, seen by its main allies Saudi Arabia and the United States as a bulwark against the regional influence of Shi’ite power Iran.
Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite population complains of discrimination in access to government jobs and housing, which the government denies, and wants a bigger say in decision-making.
It has not been able to capitalise on demographic strength in elections. Analysts and the opposition say the government apportions voting districts to prevent Wefaq winning a majority.
Election results published in an official statement on Sunday showed the two remaining candidates of Wefaq’s ally Waad both lost in the second round. A third Waad candidate lost in the first round.
“Even if we had got into parliament, we would not have been able to change items in the constitution or the electoral process,” said Waad candidate Munira Fakhro.
The opposition had hoped a tie in seat numbers versus Sunni Islamists and pro-government independents would also help it launch more investigations into corruption and extensive land ownership by the royal family.
Sunni Islamist groups Al Asalah and Al Menbar, both loosely allied with the government, won four more seats in the second round, held in nine districts in which no candidate had taken more than 50 percent of votes last week.
The two groups won a total of seven seats, less than the 15 they won in 2006 when agreements between both blocs’ candidates not to compete for voters helped them win more seats.
Khalil al-Marzooq, speaker of Wefaq’s parliamentary bloc in the outgoing assembly, held out hope that some of the independents would cooperate to push for reforms and warned there could be street protests if the status quo remains.
“If parliament continues to be blocked ... it will reflect back on the situation on the ground and we will see more street protests,” he said.
Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, saw a rise in sectarian tension after the government launched a crackdown against some Shi’ite opposition leaders and activists in August, which led to a rise in street protests in Shi’ite villages.
The election was held under tight security, but voting was peaceful and analysts said turnout of about 67 percent in the first round had been surprisingly high, as the crackdown had been expected to frustrate voters.
On Thursday, Bahrain began the trial of 25 men accused of plotting to topple the Sunni-dominated political system. The defendants said they were tortured, an accusation officials denied.
Observers say the outcome of the trial — how harsh the sentencing is — could also determine whether disaffected Bahrainis return to street protests to press their cause.
Reporting by Frederik Richter; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Janet Lawrence