Bahrain Opposition Says King’s Measures Fall Short



BEIRUT, Lebanon — Bahrain’s king on Sunday announced constitutional amendments that will give the elected Parliament greater powers of scrutiny over the government, but the concessions fell short of the opposition’s demands for change.

The move by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa came nearly a year after long-simmering dissent in Bahrain, an important American ally in the Persian Gulf, erupted against the monarchy. A sweeping crackdown that polarized the country managed to end most of the protests, though the riot police and demonstrators still clash almost daily.
In a nationally televised address, King Hamad said that the new measures had emerged from the national dialogue that he organized last year to try, at least symbolically, to bridge the gulf between the government and the opposition. The amendments will give Parliament the right to approve cabinets proposed by the Sunni Muslim monarchy and will grant legislators authority to question and remove cabinet ministers.
Since 1971, the cabinet in Bahrain has been led by the king’s uncle, Prince Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa, the world’s longest-serving unelected prime minister and a figure deeply resented by the opposition. Under the new amendments, opposition leaders said, Parliament would still not have the power to question or dismiss the prime minister himself. A consultative council appointed by the king also limits the power of legislators.
“Our people have proven their desire for continuing with reforms,” the king said during his speech. “We complete the march today with those who have an honest patriotic desire for more progress and reform.
“I must mention here that democracy is not just constitutional and legislative rules; it is a culture and practice and adhering by the law and respecting international human rights principles,” the king said.
The king’s speech follows the release of a report by a panel of respected international jurists in November. Led by M. Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian-American law professor, the panel recommended sweeping changes, which the government has said it will pursue.
The opposition praised parts of the report, but it has dismissed the government’s response, saying that it has not addressed the deeper political imbalance in a country divided, in the simplest terms, between the Sunni monarchy and a Shiite Muslim majority.
Opposition leaders had a similar response on Sunday, saying that the king’s amendments did not reflect their demands for establishing a full constitutional monarchy.
“His speech fell short of our expectations,” said Sayyid Hadi Hasan al-Mosawi, a former legislator and a member of Wefaq, the largest legal opposition group. Speaking by telephone from Bahrain’s capital, Manama, he said, “The measures did not reflect any of the opposition or the people’s demands.”
Wefaq withdrew from the national dialogue, which started last July, because it said the process did not go far enough in offering far-reaching changes.
“The speech did not even tackle the core of the problem,” Mr. Mosawi said.
In a statement, Wefaq said the speech was full of “insignificant trivia” and “far from the demands of the Bahraini people who have taken to the streets for months to demand democratic transformation and to reject the dictatorship.”