x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Bahrain king pledges reforms

In a nationally televised address, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said he would soon issue royal decrees to amend the constitution and grant a greater role to the 40-seat lower house of parliament.

King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa at the United Nations in New York last year. Yesterday in Bahrain he concentrated on domestic matters and pledged greater powers for the lower house of the Bahraini parliament.
King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa at the United Nations in New York last year. Yesterday in Bahrain he concentrated on domestic matters and pledged greater powers for the lower house of the Bahraini parliament.

MANAMA // Bahrain's king promised yesterday that the nation will move ahead with political reforms that widen the powers of the elected parliament to oversee governments selected by the ruling monarchy.

The reforms are part of recommendations made last year during talks between various political and civil groups to ease tensions in the kingdom, which has faced more than 11 months of protests by the island's Shiite majority.

More than 35 people have died in the violence, which began as an Arab Spring-inspired uprising for greater rights but has shifted into a challenge against the authority of the 200-year-old dynasty. Bahrain's leaders say Iran has encouraged the violence in the strategic nation, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

In a nationally televised address, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said he would soon issue royal decrees to amend the constitution and grant a greater role to the 40-seat lower house of parliament.

The measures include allowing politicians to approve governments proposed by the ruling dynasty and giving greater authority to question and remove Cabinet officials. Parliament would also play a larger role in setting the state budget and proposing laws, he said.

But the changes are unlikely to appease opposition groups. Bahrain's main Shiite groups have withdrawn from parliament and boycotted the so-called national dialogue reform talks last summer.

Shiites account for about 70 per cent of Bahrain's 525,000 citizens, but complain they are effectively excluded from key political and security roles.

They have called for a government that reflects election results - which would bring Shiites into key Cabinet posts - rather than ministers hand-picked by the monarchy.

Abdul Jalil Khalil, a former parliament member with the main Shiite political group Al Wefaq, dismissed the reforms as "out of touch with reality" after nearly a year of non-stop protests.

Last year, Wefaq's 18 members resigned from parliament in protest.

"The king lives in another world," said Mr Khalil. "Things have changed. The people want an elected government."

The changes outlined by the king also limit some royal authority.

The king would have to issue more explanations on the selection process for the Shura Council, the 40-member upper house of parliament that is appointed by the monarch.

The king also would need wider discussions with political and judicial leaders before any decision to dissolve the elected parliament and call new elections.

In a separate statement, Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, pledged to present a proposal for an Arab Court for Human Rights at the next Arab League summit scheduled for March.

He made the comments during a news conference with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.

Bahrain's king proposed the idea of a pan-Arab body to hear rights-related cases in November after receiving an independent report on Bahrain troubles

* Associated Press