MANAMA, Bahrain — Bahrain’s embattled Shiite-led opposition held on to its 18 seats in elections for the 40-member parliament, according to official results announced Sunday, but fell short of the majority they hoped to win as a show of strength against the island kingdom’s Sunni rulers.
The leaders of the strategic U.S. ally have waged a campaign of arrests and intimidation against suspected Shiite opponents since August, claiming they seek to undermine the ruling system and could open the door for Shiite powerhouse Iran to exert influence in the heart of the Arab Gulf.
Shiites in Bahrain say they only seek greater rights and opportunities after being shut out from key decision-making roles in the country.
The Shiite seats went to the main opposition Al Wefaq group. Though it did not win a majority in Saturday’s election, it could still forge alliances with liberal parties and others to eventually gain the upper hand in parliament for a symbolic slap to Bahrain’s leaders.
In other results, 13 pro-government Sunni candidates won seats, and the other nine contests will head to runoffs on Saturday, according to election officials who announced the outcome on state television.
Most of the runoffs are between pro-government candidates.
The Shiites claim there were voting problems, including hundreds of Shiites reportedly blocked from voting.
This could result in challenges to the outcome and complicate hopes of cooling tensions after waves of arrests and street clashes between majority Shiites who claim widespread discrimination and the Sunni leadership seeking to maintain its grip.