When the 2012 Constitutional Amendments dictated the need for Bahrain’s Parliament to approve the Government’s policy plans, few appreciated how significantly this could shift the balance of power.

On 3 February, a majority of MPs approved the 2015-2018 Government Action Plan, following a number of significant modifications and additions agreed in numerous meetings between Cabinet members and parliamentarians.

The last three weeks has seen an intense period of parliamentary activity: Debating the Action Plan; proposing modifications; and lengthy meetings with ministers to extract further information about each proposal across all policy areas.

There are several far-reaching results of these efforts:

1)    Deputies have extracted numerous concessions from ministers, ensuring that the Action Plan better meets the aspirations of constituents. For example, increasing the number of housing units to be built over the next four years to 25,000 and ensuring that the Government doesn’t include old housing projects in its statistics; as well as widening the eligibility of Bahrainis for housing provision.

2)    Much more detail is now known about each of the dozens of policy proposals; better-enabling Parliament to evaluate implementation of policy.

3)    The close involvement of MPs in approving the Action Plan puts them in a more effective position for working with ministers to approve the Budget and ensuring that the Action Plan and Budget are in harmony with each other. 

4)    The positive spirit in which ministers and elected representatives have coordinated this process has reinforced the spirit of collaboration between the executive and legislative segments of the political system – a very healthy development for Bahraini democracy and effective government.

5)    For future rounds of parliamentary elections, the direct involvement of MPs in approval of the Action Plan immediately after they are elected allows for a much more transparent manner of implementing the promises they make to the electorate based on the mandate these deputies have received from the general public.

The perceived success of these MPs thus becomes tied to the perceived success or failure of the Government’s Action Plan after that four year period and helps the public better decide whether former MPs should be returned to Parliament. Such a virtuous circle allows for a much more accountable and transparent system of governance.

Enhanced powers

In the recent past, critics claimed that the Bahraini Parliament had few powers. The last few weeks have shown that this is not true and that the 2012 Constitutional Amendments have put Bahrain on course for a very different political model, where the democratically elected representatives of the people have a central role in ensuring that the aspirations of their constituents are turned into a reality.

The 2012 Constitutional Amendments give the elected house of Parliament a number of further powers, including enhanced powers for questioning ministers and even producing a vote of no confidence against ministers who are seen to be failing in their duties.

MPs will shortly be reviewing the Financial Audit Bureau report, looking into issues of corruption and mismanagement in government departments. MPs have promised to follow up all shortcomings and abuses. The head of Parliament Ahmed al-Mulla vowed that” All parliamentary tools at our disposal will be used if violations and offenses are discovered, in order to protect public funds”.

A successful parliamentary model?

Other models for democratization in the Arab world have too often proved to be dysfunctional and inefficient, with different political parties pitted against each other or with successive parliaments being dissolved in a protracted cycle of conflict with the executive bodies. Parliaments in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Kuwait have repeatedly fallen short of the promises made to citizens.

Bahrain, however, with the enhanced role of Parliament, looks set to avoid many of these pitfalls:

Firstly; with the poor performance of political societies in the 2014 elections Bahrain can perhaps claim to have one of the few parliaments in the world that is almost completely free of factionalism and party rivalry – with well over 75% of MPs not being formally connected to any society.

Secondly; MPs have shown their willingness to challenge ministers and government officials in ensuring that the demands of constituents are addressed. However, the experience of the Action Plan shows that MPs and ministers can then work effectively together to reach compromises, without any need for a protracted stand-off.

Thirdly; Bahrain’s 2014 Parliament is remarkably diverse, with all the major segments of society well-represented. Most MPs are new to Parliament, which shows the ability of Bahraini democracy to renew itself; so there is a strong youth and progressive element.

Fourthly; along with the absence of partisan forces, there are few Islamist figures and few entrenched ideologies that have led to parliaments elsewhere getting bogged down in issues that don’t serve the public interest.

Finally; Bahrain’s mixed system of governance in the context of a Constitutional Monarchy means that a single chamber cannot force through measures that contradict the rights and freedoms of a single segment of society. The Shura Council’s recent rejection of an employment bill which gave preferential treatment to Bahraini workers, but arguably discriminated against non-Bahrainis, is evidence of this.

It is too early to declare that Bahrain has developed the perfect system of representative government. We are still on the path of reform and there are many obvious failings that need to be addressed.

However, the recent developments in this democratic process give cause for optimism that Bahrain is moving in the right direction and that a more transparent and representative governing can be achieved without some of the obstacles that have hindered democratization elsewhere.


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