Manama: Bahrain’s parliament elected a female journalist turned politician as speaker for the first time in its history at the opening session of the house on Wednesday.
The newly-elected members took part in the voting process. Fouzia Zainal bagged 25 votes of the 40 members of the Council of Representatives to become only the second woman in Arab world to hold the position of House speaker following Dr Amal Al Qubaisi in the UAE’s Federal National Council.
She heads a Council of Representatives with more female members – six – than any time since Bahrain held its first parliamentary election in 2002.
“I would like to thank all those who voted for me, as well as all those who did not vote for me, in the exercise of civilised democracy,” said Ms Zainal.
Ms Zainal worked as a journalist before running for parliament. She ran twice before winning in 2018.
Her election was hailed as the culmination of a key “democratic moment” for the kingdom in messages of congratulation from Bahraini citizens.
The kingdom held simultaneous parliamentary and municipal elections on November 24, with a runoff vote on December 1 for 31 parliamentary seats and 23 municipal seats that were not decided in the first round.
Her counterpart in the Kuwaiti parliament, Marzouq Al Ghanim, congratulated Ms Zainal, saying that her victory represents the progressiveness of Bahraini women and their role in society.
Justice Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, head of the Supreme Elections Committee, said the elections were notable for the greater participation of women and youth and increased voter scrutiny of the candidates. There were 41 women among the 293 candidates for the 40-seat Council of Representatives, and about 200 standing for council seats.
Critics said the election was marred by an opposition boycott and the barring of members from two major political groups that were dissolved by the courts.
Bahrain’s new parliament and government will be installed at a crucial time for the island nation as it seeks to revive its stalling economy and attract foreign investment while dealing with concerted attempts by Iran to foment unrest.
Election authorities said about 67 per cent of the eligible voters took part in the parliamentary election and about 70 per cent in the municipal elections. Bahrain has held elections in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.