We would recommend to everyone to take the time to watch the video of the two-hour Bahrain Debate that took place in London on 3 December, not least because it’s so rare to see genuine debate being conducted about Bahraini issues, where all the sides sit around in public and talk to each other.
One of the important results of such debate is that the more misconceptions and misunderstandings can be addressed directly. For example, just a few seconds into the introduction Bahrain was already being accused of “gerrymandering” election borders and the recent elections were written-off as “irrelevant”.
The presence of a representative of the Crown Prince’s office allowed such ridiculous allegations to be challenged immediately, drawing attention to the recent radical changes to the election borders and the 2012 reforms to empower parliamentarians. For those in doubt as to the far-reaching nature of the constituency reforms, we would ask you to read Citizens for Bahrain’s own research on this issue at the links here.
During the debate, the opposition representative and other speakers alleged that during National Dialogue discussions the opposition had been promised that 20 parliamentary seats would be guaranteed to Shia representatives – a claim that was previously denied by the Minister of Justice.
Al-Wefaq’s representative, Ali al-Aswad, claimed that because only thirteen Shias won seats, the Government was obviously lying, the election borders must be gerrymandered and the election results must have been falsified.
This claim is plainly insensible for a whole number of reasons:
You cannot demand that your constituents boycott the vote and then complain that those who win the vote don’t represent your demographic. For example, in some of the mixed constituencies in Hamad Town, many Shia opposition supporters boycotted the vote and therefore Sunni loyalist representatives won overwhelmingly. Who should we blame for such a result? The government or the opposition?
The new constituency borders may guarantee a fairer and more representative vote, but they do not and should not guarantee seats to a particular sect or society.
Citizens for Bahrain would advocate that in a mature and cohesive society voters should not vote along sectarian lines. They should chose the candidates who can best serve them and who puts forward a political vision for the good of the whole nation.
Let us be very clear: Citizens for Bahrain and most reasonable Bahrainis would reject any electoral or governing system based on sectarianism, where certain seats or posts were guaranteed to representatives of a particular sect. Such a system has been a disaster that has polarized society in other countries and such an approach has no precedent in Bahrain’s culture and traditions which are based on tolerance and coexistence.
In some of the mixed areas where Shia candidates won, because of the nature of the opposition boycott, it is very obvious that those candidates must have benefitted from substantial numbers of votes from the Sunni residents in those areas.
For example, successful candidates (who happened to be Shia) like Ali al-Aradi (5th Northern constituency) and Rua al-Haiki (6th Northern constituency) won their seats because they put forward credible and impressive policy proposals, not because they were trying to appeal to a particular sect. In fact, those societies that were competing on an explicitly (Sunni) agenda lost disastrously, which proves how foreign such a sectarian mentality is to Bahrain.
If Al-Wefaq Islamic Society want to know how the reformed electoral system benefits them, the only way they can find out is by participating.
However, when Al-Wefaq eventually choses to return to the Parliament and work within the political system, not against it; they much embrace an ideology that appeals to all Bahrainis, not just a particular sect; particularly as it is clear that after the experience of the last three years much of the public has turned against sectarian-affiliated political societies.
Al-Wefaq does not represent the majority of Bahrain. The majority of Bahrainis defied the Al-Wefaq boycott and turned out to vote, and in most constituencies the turnout was between 60 and 90%.
So when Al-Wefaq returns to Parliament, we hope that the seats that they win, will be gained because these representatives succeed in articulating the best political vision for the good of all Bahrain and that they will work constructively with the rest of the Parliament on this basis.
To this end, we need more such “Bahrain Debates” to help us come up with a shared agenda and vision for Bahrain’s future that rejects the disease of sectarianism and sees all citizens as equal and part of the same nation.
It is good to see representatives of both the Bahraini authorities and the opposition willing to engage each other in public and such debates should aspire to include the different components of Bahrain’s society. We have a great need to come together as fellow Bahrainis in order to put to rest the issues which divide us, for the sake of a united and prosperous future for us all.