Any political progress in Bahrain must meet the aspirations of its people

Protesters today reject fake reform plan

The last few weeks have seen some developments in the political situation in Bahrain, following the release of a document highlighting 5 issues for discussion by the Crown Prince. The Bahrain Justice and Development Movement welcomes any steps taken that can help alleviate the political crisis in Bahrain, but there is yet to be any serious indication that the developments taken thus far come anywhere near to meeting the democratic aspirations of the people of Bahrain.

The Crown Prince of Bahrain has initiated a document that highlights 5 issues that he believes form a consensus of the various stakeholders in Bahrain society. They are summarized as follows:

1. Election districts should be distributed more equally.
2. Concerning the legislative authority
i. Shura council appointments should have a clear process
ii. Guarantees should ensure legislative process is not disabled
iii. Ministers, including Prime Minister can be question
3. Concerning the Government
i. The King is to assign the Prime Minister to form a government
ii. Parliament to approve formation of government with vote of confidence, as well as its agenda
– Conditions of a vote of confidence
a. Majority of members of parliament agree first time
b. If not agreed by Parliament, PM must amend
c. If Parliament does not agree again, PM must amend, but if this fails, Parliament is dissolved and the government continues until a new parliament is elected
4. Concerning the judicial authority
i. Judiciary will be assisted by international authorities
ii. Promotion of independence of the judiciary in the framework of the constitution and law
5. Concerning security
i. All citizens should be responsible and reject terrorism and violence
ii. Military should be strictly restricted to follow conditions set by the framework of the law

Any initiatives towards alleviating the political crisis in Bahrain must be taken seriously, but we have always maintained that this cannot happen unless it is in tandem with the requirements of the people.

At this stage, we share the opposition’s view that such requirements are not met from these 5 issues, as outlined below:

1. Whilst we agree that election districts should be distributed more equally, this is vague and without any substance. We appreciate any steps forward in this direction, but there is the need to be more prescriptive in what this actually means. We do not outright reject this proposal but equally it is impossible to sign up to something so vague.

2. Welcome the call for higher accountability of ministers and Prime Minister, but there is no mention here of parliamentary powers. The crux of the problem is that the elected chamber of parliament is weak and holds as much power as the unelected chamber. How the Shura council is appointed is a secondary question to the power it holds and we believe the representatives of the people should hold the considerable element of power within the legislature. Secondly there is no space for discussion on the power of the King to veto parliamentary legislation.

3. This is one of the most problematic sections. There is a tacit acceptance that the Prime Minister will remain unelected and yield undue power. Giving parliament the power to approve the government formation and its agenda is minor in comparison to how the government is formed. The government must be elected from the largest party in parliament, as is the democratic principal elsewhere. An unelected Prime Minister, appointing his own government is simply not progress.

4. Another vague statement that doesn’t address the formation and appointment of the judges. The idea of “independence of the judiciary” appears to be nothing more than an after thought, bearing very little relation to anything concrete. We appreciate the assistance of international experts on the judiciary but much more serious discussion must take place about the appointment of judges, their politicized roles and this should be along side a study of the clear judicial malpractices that have been prevalent since the beginning of February 2011.

5. This is very weak in addressing the serious violations committed by the security forces since 14th February 2011. The BICI, UPR, countless international NGO’s and government reports have all highlighted in depth the grave abuses committed by Bahrain. This should be the first and foremost principle to be discussed on security issues in Bahrain. Any failure to mention implementation of the BICI is clearly a maneuver to justify ongoing rights violations. Furthermore it seems to equate the violence of protesters (although deplorable, still a tiny minority) with that of the security forces. This is clearly not right.

In conclusion our position stands that we welcome any positive steps and indeed we see potential in this set of issues. However much more work is needed and confidence must be built in order to allow the opposition to feel that this is something they can buy into.

We have witnessed far too many insufficient “reform plans” that are nothing more than cosmetic procedures, designed to appease the international community.

This is not the time for appeasement through fake steps, but instead the time to see some serious and meaningful changes to allow Bahrain back to stability and out of this painful crisis. Not just because it is just and fair, but because the people will never agree to a settlement that fails to reach their aspirations.

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