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Cablegate: Moderates On Top in Wifaq Shura Elections

VZCZCXRO7560
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0404 1641310
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 121310Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7924
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD PRIORITY 0228
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000404

SIPDIS

BAGHDAD FOR AMBASSADOR ERELI

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/12/2018
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KISL BA
SUBJECT: MODERATES ON TOP IN WIFAQ SHURA ELECTIONS

REF: MANAMA 336

Classified By: CDA Christopher Henzel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(SBU) Summary: Moderates won a majority of the 15 seats in elections for the Shura Council of the Shi'a Wifaq society, Bahrain's largest political party. The party's rank and file voted to amend its bylaws to eliminate term limits, a clear vote of confidence in the current Secretary General, Ali Salman. For the first time a woman won a seat on the party's Shura Council. End summary.

2.(SBU) The Al-Wifaq National Islamic Society held a general assembly meeting on May 31, and elected half of its 30 member Shura Council (reftel). Thirty six people stood for election to the 15 available seats. Four candidates were incumbents. The candidates identified themselves as either conservative, seeking instruction from Shi'a religious leader Isa Qassim on most topics, or moderate, willing to differ with Qassim on some secular and political issues. Conservatives ran an organized campaign and prepared flyers listing "supported" candidates. (The list included several moderates who didn't know that they had been placed on the list.) The flyers did not identify who supported these candidates, but conservatives standing outside the tent told voters that "religious scholars" endorsed the list. Moderate candidates did not distribute literature, but stood at the front of the tent and shook hands with voters as they entered.

4.(SBU) Each of the approximately 1,000 voters selected up to 15 candidates from a ballot that included candidates' names and photos. Conservative Sayed Abbas Hashem garnered the most votes (710), but moderates captured the majority of the 15 open seats. Both moderates and conservatives supported the only woman candidate, Ramla Abdulhameed, who finished third with 613 votes. Nizar Al Qari, a moderate who won re-election, told poloff that he believed that had more women stood, more would have been elected.

5.(SBU) The general assembly overruled conservatives' objections and amended the society's bylaws to eliminate the two-term limit for the society's Secretary General. Al Qari believed the amendment demonstrated solid support for current Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman, a soft-spoken cleric who studied in Qom and has led Wifaq since its establishment in 2000.

6.(C) Comment: Since the parliamentary elections in 2006, Wifaq's leadership has focused on parliament to the exclusion of almost everything else. Internal bodies, such as the housing committee, exist on paper but haven't met for extended periods. Ali Salman appears to be aiming at re-energizing these neglected party functions, and the election results indicate that the rank and file are prepared to follow his lead. Given the opportunity to turn the party's leadership over to conservative followers of Isa Qassim, the membership reaffirmed its confidence in the more moderate Salman. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** HENZEL

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