2001 referendum on the National Action Charter
When King Hamad ascended to the throne in 1999 he put Bahrain on the path of Constitutional Monarchy. The National Action Charter enshrined the rights and freedoms of all Bahrainis and dictated a two-chamber Parliament. This Constitution was approved by over 98% of Bahrainis in the referendum.
2002, 2006 & 2010 parliamentary & municipal elections
Although several political societies boycotted the 2002 vote, successive rounds of elections saw increased public participation and a growing political maturity. Elected MPs have been active in proposing legislation and modifying legislation produced by the Government.
However, some people claimed that elected representatives lacked the powers they needed to fulfill their promises to constituents.
2008: Vision 2030 Initiative
The Economic Vision 2030 plan was launched by King Hamad and spearheaded by the Crown Prince with the goals of driving the Bahraini economy forward and “building a better life for every Bahraini”. Bahrain’s Economic Development Board is responsible for taking this vision forward, hand in hand with the Government and the private and public sectors.
2011 unrest – a step backwards
Certainly many Bahrainis initially participated in the Pearl Roundabout demonstrations with the aim of supporting reform and greater political accountability.
However, the social strife that followed in many ways set back political reform, by creating deep sectarian divisions and allowing the direction of events to be controlled by extremists and militants who wanted to destroy the political system altogether and give rise to the same revolutionary currents that have done so much damage in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria.
By withdrawing from Parliament, Al-Wefaq Islamic Society abandoned attempts to pursue reform through existing political channels and sought to undermine the system from the outside through rallies and rioting.
2011-2012: Implementation of BICI recommendations
After the 2011 unrest, the King commissioned the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, headed by a respected international judge to investigate these events.
The 500-page BICI report and recommendations were accepted in full by the King and he mandated his Government to implement extensive security and judicial reforms to avoid the mistakes of the past and increase the professionalism of these sectors.
2012 Constitutional Amendments
The main effect of these amendments was to significantly increase the powers of elected MPs vis-à-vis the Cabinet and the appointed parliament (the Shura Council).
As well as being required to approve the Government’s policy plans, MPs were given greater powers for questioning ministers and even producing no-confidence votes against ministers if they were seen to not be carrying out their duties effectively.
2011-2014 National Dialogue process
There have been several rounds of National Dialogue since the 2011 unrest, bringing together Bahrain’s key political entities, including segments of the opposition.
By September 2014 this process resulted in the Government submitting a Five-Point plan, attempting to meet the opposition half-way on many issues and seeking to establish a fairer and more representative political system in Bahrain. The opposition rejected these proposals, which leaves the future of the Dialogue process unclear.
October 2014 election boundary changes
One of the key opposition demands was radically changing the constituency boundaries to make constituency sizes fairer. Few expected that the Government would be willing to go so far in changing almost all the existing constituencies, abolishing one of the five governorates and producing a new system where 90% of constituencies were of approximately equal size.
November 2014 elections
The 2014 parliamentary elections were a watershed for several reasons: 75% of those who won seats were new MPs, political societies for the most part were soundly defeated.
So the majority of seats went to younger, independent figures with a broad range of technocratic skills, producing a Parliament that was representative and ambitious in its desire for change and reform.
Despite an opposition boycott, turnout exceeded 54% and was between 60-90% in over half of constituencies.
2015-2018 Government Action Plan
As was enshrined in the 2012 Constitutional Amendments, the new Government policy proposals had to be approved by elected parliamentarians. So for the first time, the Prime Minister came to Parliament to read out the new draft Action Plan.
There was much about the draft that many MPs initially found unacceptable, including the lack of detail about many proposals. So throughout January MPs engaged in intense negotiations with Ministers to insure inclusion of many of the priorities demanded by their constituents. The resulting revised document was approved by the vast majority of MPs on 3 February 2015.
Approval of the Action Plan, represents a consolidation by MPs of their increased powers and a readiness to play a much greater role in engaging with government policies and monitoring implementation in line with the aspirations of Bahrainis citizens. Therefore this process can be rightly seen as a turning point for the democratization process in Bahrain.