DUBAI (AFP) - Bahrain's Shi'ite-led opposition on Saturday announced a boycott of parliamentary elections planned for November, saying the vote would cement "totalitarian" Sunni rule in the kingdom.
Four opposition groups, including the main Shi'ite movement Al-Wefaq, vowed to pursue "peaceful protests" in Bahrain until their demand for a constitutional monarchy is achieved.
The tiny Gulf kingdom remains deeply divided since it was rocked by protests led by the Shiite majority in 2011.
King Hamad set elections for a new 40-seat lower house of parliament for Nov 22, the first such polls since the 2011 protests. Municipal elections will be held simultaneously.
Al-Wefaq, which led the protest movement against the Sunni regime, had made slender gains in the last polls in 2010.
But it withdrew its 18 MPs after the uprising was crushed by the Bahraini government, a key US ally and member of the US-led coalition in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) militant group.
In an English-language statement received by AFP, the opposition groups denounced the elections as "a new autocratic step" by the government and urged Bahrainis to join the boycott.
"The fact that the authority has taken this decision... (is) a new autocratic step added to its continuous persistence to maintain its totalitarian rule," it said.
The statement added all sides in Bahrain must engage "in serious negotiations and dialogue" before any election.
A proposal by authorities in September to relaunch a national dialogue was given a frosty reception by Al-Wefaq.
The proposal has five core elements, including the redefinition of electoral districts and permission for parliament to question the premier and his ministers.
The opposition is demanding an independent election commission and the dissolution of the Consultative Council, parliament's upper chamber whose members are appointed by the king.
They are also demanding the prime minister be appointed by parliamentary majority, instead of the king.
The opposition took part in two rounds of dialogue after the 2011 uprising but withdrew from the talks, saying the authorities were not making enough concessions.