The rejection of participation in this year’s Parliamentary elections by Al-Wefaq Secretary-General, Sheikh Ali Salman, is a deeply depressing statement for all those who care about Bahrain.
We cannot say that this statement was unexpected. However, such a boycott by Al-Wefaq Islamic Society condemns Bahrain to four more years of political stalemate and unrest.
When Ali Salman refuses Al-Wefaq’s participation until all his demands are met, he is effectively holding the whole of Bahrain hostage. Such a declaration slams the door in the faces of those urging compromise, dialogue and reconciliation.
Since Al-Wefaq’s parliamentary walk-out in February 2011, where they held 18 out of 40 seats, there have been major reforms of the Parliament, through a number of constitutional amendments.
These reforms include powers for MPs to strike down elements of Government policy or hold a vote of no confidence against Government ministers. Ministers can now be summoned for questioning by the elected representatives; and the elected half of the house has been empowered vis-à-vis the appointed Shura Council.
Rather than put these important results of the democratization process to the test; Al-Wefaq seems to have chosen to continue the path of extra-parliamentary agitation.
Over the past three years, this course of action has led to the radicalization of a generation of young people within Al-Wefaq’s constituencies and the polarization of Bahrain’s society – yet Al-Wefaq is no closer to achieving its goals.
Al-Wefaq should stop listening to its hardline supporters inside Bahrain and its backers outside Bahrain who are urging it to stand firm indefinitely in order to obtain 100% of its demands.
Many Bahrainis already believe that Al-Wefaq condones terrorism and acts according to foreign interests. Sheikh Ali Salman should not prove them right.
Four more years outside Parliament will only widen this gulf in Bahrain’s society, with dangerous consequences for everyone.
We have argued previously that Al-Wefaq’s demands of a directly elected government, combined with a single-chamber Parliament would be a disaster for Bahrain, given the complex composition of society and people’s tendency to vote according to religious sect and not political competence.
Instead of trying to force the agenda through rallies and rioting; Al-Wefaq should demonstrate that it is serious about re-engaging with the National Dialogue process and reaching a consensus with all segments of Bahraini society. However, all sides have a duty to be working much harder to make the Dialogue a credible process which Bahrainis can give their support to.
Foreign Governments and all those who care about Bahrain’s future should be telling Al-Wefaq very clearly that they’ve already stayed out of the democratic process for too long. If they are serious about changing Bahrain for the better, they should do this by collaborating with others from within the political system; not seeking to destroy the political system from the outside.