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No National Dialogue ‘Outside’ Parliament- Bahraini Official | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat- In a direct response to the calls of several political societies for a direct national dialogue with the authorities, a senior Bahraini official has told Asharq Al-Awsat that the authorities in his country “categorically reject a so-called national dialogue as long as it is conducted outside the framework of the Parliament that was elected by the people”. He also emphasized that any dialogue outside the Parliament would be “illegal and unconstitutional”.

In his statement, the Bahraini official condemned the calls for a direct national dialogue between the state and all the political activities, societies, and currents of the Bahraini people. He emphasized: “We have a parliament that was directly elected by the people and we have a national charter that was approved by 98 of the people. Any national dialogue should be held within the framework of the legislative authority. The political societies that do not have elected deputies in Parliament should seek to work inside the Parliament and not outside it”. The Bahraini official’s response comes in the wake of strong calls made in the past few days by Bahraini political societies for a national dialogue between the opposition and the authorities outside the framework of the legislative power to debate national issues, including constitutional amendments for which these forces are calling. Four political societies – the Al-Wifaq National Islamic Society, the Progressive Forum Society, the Al-Tajammu al-Qawmi Society, and the National Democratic Action Society (WAAD) – have called on the political leadership in Bahrain to start a direct national dialogue with all the currents in the region. They demanded the official presence of the state in this state and said that it should not be held within the framework of the parliament. The Al-Wifaq National Islamic Society (the largest society representing the Shias in Bahrain) is the only society of the four that has deputies (17 deputies) in parliament; the other three societies have no deputies in the legislative authority. In view of the presence of several political activities and societies outside parliament – such as the unlicensed Haq Movement – a number of political societies in Bahrain want a national dialogue outside the parliament.

The most prominent topic that these societies wish to place on the agenda of the dialogue is the issue of constitutional amendments. The societies say that the current constitution needs to be amended toward more political participation by the people in the government’s powers. The authorities, however, say that any proposed amendments are welcome on condition they are debated within the parliament. Last month, Bahraini King Hamad Bin-Isa Al-Khalifa issued a royal amnesty pardoning scores of defendants in security cases. The most prominent of these defendants was Hassan Mushaymi, the secretary-general of the banned Haq Movement. The Bahraini political societies said that this pardon eased the congestion in the Bahraini street at the time. The official who talked to Asharq Al-Awsat and requested anonymity argues that the call to a national dialogue outside the parliament “is unconstitutional and illegal. We have an elected parliament and it is the constitutional tool that can be used by anyone that wishes to propose a dialogue. These calls do not have a legal basis; this is not acceptable. Anyone that wishes to raise a security issue or a political issue or anything else should go to the correct door; namely, only the parliament”. The national dialogue process began when the king of Bahrain assumed power in 1999 at a time when the constitution was suspended. In November 2000, a national committee was formed to issue a draft national action charter. Through this committee, the authorities held a dialogue with all the political societies, activities, and currents that resulted with the issuance of the new version of the Bahraini constitution and the establishment of the constitutional state institutions that led to an elected parliament first in 2002 and later in 2006.

On the same subject, Bahraini jurists and specialists said that parliament “is the only constitutional gateway to debate any files or issues or proposals dealing with political, jurist, security, or economic issues or issues pertaining to daily life in light of the political and democratic openness that the country is witnessing under His Majesty the king’s comprehensive reform plan”. A jurist forum was held on Thursday under the headline of “Parliament and the Consecration of the Rule of Law and Constitutional Institutions” that was attended by a large number of law professors and experts. The forum called for adherence to the constitutional and legal mechanics within the framework of separation of powers. It renounced any call for foreign intervention interference in domestic affairs, denounced unconstitutional manifestations such as “petitions” or unlicensed marches or raising some issues outside parliament with the intention of threatening national unity and sabotaging the reform experiment. Attorney Yusuf al-Hashimi, chairman of the board of the Bahraini Jurists Society and director of the forum, affirmed that spreading legal and jurist awareness “is of great importance at this important phase of King Hamad Bin-Isa Al-Khalifa’s comprehensive reform plan in order to consolidate democracy through respect for the present legal and constitutional institutions in accordance with the constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain of 2002. It reaffirms the commitment of the government, the institutions, and the people to their basic rights and duties in a way that consolidates the state of law and institutions within the framework of a hereditary constitutional monarchy based on separation among the three executive, legislative, and judicial powers.

In a paper to the forum entitled “Parliament and the Discussion of National Issues,” Dr Muhammad Taha al-Mashhadani, dean of the School of Law at Bahrain University, argued that Parliament – the Shura Council and the House of Representatives – is the constitutional representative of the Bahraini people that “expresses their will and speaks on their behalf. No individual or group has the right to talk about representing the people. It only represents itself”. Al-Mashhadani called for distinguishing between the idea of constant societal dialogue within the framework of the reform plan and the idea of national dialogue “that has ended and that has no constitutional justification for it after a comprehensive national dialogue was conducted with the participation of political, social, economic, and religious activities and contributed to the crystallization of the national action charter that was issued in February 2001 and that resulted in the constitutional amendments of 2002”. Al-Mashhadani emphasized that “there is no need for new dialogues in view of the presence of the parliament and the civil and political societies that participated in the societal dialogue through their representatives in parliament or through dialogue with the deputies in their electoral districts”.

Attorney Jamilah Ali Salman, the president of the Bahraini Lawyers Society, said that parliament represents the most prominent landmark of the Bahraini reform project “particularly after the enactment of all the constitutional amendments that were approved by the national charter, especially the transformation to constitutional monarchy and the adoption of the bicameral system in legislative action”. She pointed to the importance of the role of a parliament member in mediating between all the citizens and the administrative and executive bodies. However, she added, “the civil society institutions represent a specific group that has common religious or ideological or sectarian or professional factors”. Attorney Jamilah Salman concluded that the legislative authority is the true representative of the will of the electorate. It is the official authority with direct and oversight powers on the work of the government and it follows up on proposals and translates them into legislations or draft laws.