Further talks have recently been held between prominent members of Bahrain’s opposition and senior government officials. These meetings appear to show signs of progress in addressing the political deadlock that has brought Bahrain’s National Dialogue to a complete halt since September of last year.
Many Bahrainis conveyed doubt over the success of the Crown Prince’s recent meeting with senior opposition members, stressing that Dialogue is a futile initiative.
However, thanks to the Crown Prince’s efforts, more progress has been made towards reconciliation in Bahrain in the past week than in all of 2013.
After last year’s talks failed to produce even an agenda for the National Dialogue, senior members of both the Government and the opposition have reportedly agreed on the main terms that will form the basis of this year’s negotiations.
Officials have so far agreed upon five principle issues to address the opposition’s primary grievances. These terms include Parliament’s approval of governments appointed by the King; examining the powers and composition of the Shura Council; re-examining electoral districts; a more independent judiciary; and enhancement of Bahrain’s police and national security apparatus.
These areas of discussion could potentially allow for a fairer pattern of representation in Bahrain’s legislative process; as well to reduce the scope for judicial bias.
Although the Shura Council – the upper house of parliament appointed by the King – is actually surprisingly comprehensive in its representation of Bahrain’s core constituencies; many communities feel under represented, particularly as the upper house currently holds the final say in parliamentary law-making decisions.
Although a 2012 constitutional amendment gave the lower house of parliament the right to object to Shura Council proposals; and to question Ministerial decisions – many of these new powers have remained untested due to the 2011 mass resignation of opposition MPs.
Another major breakthrough come with the appointment of Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Abdullah Al Khalifa to officially represent the Government at the Dialogue table. Opposition members have long requested that a senior member of the Royal family be present at the talks to represent not only the Government, but the King as well.
Bilateral meetings are soon to be held between the Royal Court and the opposition in order to set an official agenda for the Dialogue, and members have finally expressed optimism at the idea of fruitful negotiations.
The Royal Court will also hold talks with loyalist political groups in hopes of addressing their concerns before setting the National Dialogue agenda. Many loyalist groups have expressed concern over these recent developments and have stipulated demands of their own before agreeing to rejoin the National Dialogue.
These demands include rejecting any preconditions and agreements between the Government and opposition parties outside of the National Dialogue.
Other groups have shown concern over continued opposition protests and rioting; despite the recent developments. They have requested an official statement of condemnation from opposition parties of the vandalism and street violence perpetuated by some of their constituencies.
Despite these concerns, we are optimistic that all political groups will respond constructively to attempts to restart the Dialogue process; avoiding making unreasonable demands or threatening boycotts.
All parties, including the Government, should capitalize on this newfound opportunity for peace and reconciliation that will undoubtedly lay the foundation for progress and dictate the future of Bahraini politics.
We wish all the key figures success and wisdom in pursuing these efforts for peace and progress.