MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahraini voters returned to the polls Saturday for a runoff election being boycotted by the opposition for the tiny island nation's first new parliament since widespread Arab Spring-inspired protests nearly four years ago.
The elections will determine the makeup of the 40-seat lower house of parliament. It follows a first-round vote last weekend, when only six candidates secured an outright majority to claim their seats.
Bahrain is a Western ally that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and is part of the U.S.-led coalition striking the Islamic State group. It continues to face street clashes and other low-level unrest following a February 2011 uprising led by the country's majority Shiites, who seek greater political freedoms from the Sunni monarchy.
The country's main Shiite organization, al-Wefaq, and other opposition groups are boycotting the election because they say the government is failing to enact political reforms and address other grievances in the wake of the protests.
Mohsin Mohammed, 30, a salesman from the mostly Shiite village of Diraz, was one of those who heeded calls to stay away from the polls.
"I will not vote until we see a real change," he said. "We can't live in peace if society is divided."
But others felt it was important to make their voices heard.
"I am here to vote because I have to be part of the democratic process, which took 100 years to be completed in other countries," said Zahra Gulam Taher, a Bahraini businesswoman from Jidhafs, a largely Shiite area in the north of the country.
Al-Wefaq disputes government claims that just more than half of registered voters cast ballots last weekend. It puts turnout at closer to 30 percent.
Six of 23 female candidates garnered enough votes last week to make it into the second round of voting.
The lower house of parliament has limited direct powers but carries important symbolism as part of political reforms begun more than a decade ago. Members of a 40-seat upper house are appointed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.