Bahrain reforms put on ‘fast track’
Manama, April 26, 2012
Landmark constitutional amendments that give more power to the people were approved in 'record' time by Bahrain's Shura Council yesterday (April 25), according to chairman Ali Saleh Al Saleh.
He said members of the chamber had been working round-the-clock to fast-track yesterday's decision, which he described as a reflection of public opinion.
Nineteen of 21 amendments originally proposed by His Majesty King Hamad in January have now been approved by both parliament and the Shura Council.
They will now be referred back to the King and will come into effect as soon as he ratifies them.
'We want to thank the King for his initiative to introduce the amendments in the first place to reflect the will of the people and the government for helping parliament and the council approve it in the best format possible,' said Al Saleh.
'Our collaborative efforts have meant that the landmark amendments were approved in a record week's time, rather than the two weeks I had originally set. I know that councillors have had minimal sleep since last week.'
The amendments were held up in parliament for three months due to disagreements on some articles, before being voted on by MPs two weeks ago.
Parliament approved 19 of them with some tweaks, but did not approve one establishing minimum education requirements for potential MPs and another allowing the government to fast-track 'urgent' legislation.
The Shura Council yesterday followed MPs' lead by failing to approve the same two amendments.
Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowment Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa told members of the Shura Council yesterday that Bahrain's democratic reforms would continue.
'Reforms by logic are ongoing and will not stop,' he said. 'It is always up to the people to seek them through proper channels. The National Assembly proved to everyone that it is a real representative of the public's will. It (calls to increase parliament's powers) all started in the National Dialogue in July and in less than a year it has become a reality.'
The head of the Shura Council committee charged with reviewing the amendments said it was a massive step in the right direction.
'Bahrain has a taken a huge step forward with those amendments and the future has more reforms lined up for the people,' said legislative and legal affairs committee chairwoman Dalal Al Zayed.
Meanwhile, Shura Council member Ali Al Asfoor said opposition groups such as Al Wefaq National Islamic Society - which pulled its MPs out of parliament last year in protest during the height of unrest and walked out of last summer's National Dialogue - had missed out as a result.
'They would have certainly helped give the amendments a better spectrum, but it is not the end of the road and they have a chance on new amendments that will come in future,' he said.
Under the approved amendments, the National Assembly will have the power to reject a four-year plan presented by the Cabinet at the beginning of each legislative term and order HRH the Premier to present a new one.
Two-thirds of parliament will also have the right to take a vote of 'no confidence' against HRH the Premier if MPs feel they can't co-operate with the Cabinet.
Parliament's chairman will take over as chairman of both chambers in the National Assembly, a role previously occupied by the Shura Council chairman.
MPs who resign from parliament will be prevented from running again in the same four-year term, unless parliament decides otherwise.
Shura Council members will be appointed by the King through criteria he will determine and announce before selections are made.
For parliament to be dissolved, consent must be forthcoming from the parliament, Shura Council and Constitutional Court chairmen - besides the King and the Prime Minister.
Five MPs will have the right to ask for a particular minister to be questioned on the open floor and the government will be obliged to submit an annual budget, rather than a two-year budget. – TradeArabia News Service