Bahraini voters have returned to the polls for runoff elections boycotted by the main opposition Shiite group. The Western ally and monarchy militarily quashed Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011, and remains restless.
Saturday's elections will determine the makeup of the 40-seat lower house of Bahrain's parliament, following a first-round vote last weekend in which just six candidates won the outright majority required to dodge a second round.
Once formed, the parliament will be Bahrain's first since a failed February 2011 uprising - some of the earliest scenes of the so-called Arab Spring. Opposition Shiite groups, most notably al-Wefaq, have boycotted the vote, saying that the government has failed to enact promised political reforms. Al-Wefaq also questioned official turnout figures from last weekend's first round of voting, claiming that just 30 percent of the electorate, not the stated 50 percent, actually cast ballots.
The key Western ally, currently taking part in the US-led military campaign against the self-styled "Islamic State," hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet.
Six female candidates, of 23 who initially ran, qualified for Saturday's second round.
Bahrain is a tiny island nation of around 1.3 million people, the majority of whom are Shiites, but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy out of the capital Manama. The country's lower house of parliament has limited powers but some symbolic value as part of a political reforms process started more than a decade ago. The 40 members of Bahrain's upper house of parliament are appointed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
The 2011 protests were subdued after enlisting military assistance from Gulf neighbor Saudi Arabia. Street clashes and other comparatively minor unrest have continued, but on a much smaller scale, since then.
Bahrain may not be making the headlines as in 2011, but tear gas cannisters can often be found on Manama's streets
Bahrain's 2011 near-revolt forced the delay - and ultimately the cancellation - of the country's Formula 1 race that year. The F1 grid returned in 2012, however, and has not missed an appointment since as a key financial contributor to the series; the international attention brought by the race tends to lead to an increase in protests in the country.
msh/tj (AP, dpa)