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Middle East
Bahrain's king approves 'new reforms'
Elected lower house to have more power but opposition unimpressed as appointed upper house retains political dominance.
Last Modified: 29 Jul 2011 08:07
Bahrain's largest shia bloc, Wefaq, withdrew from government-initiated National Dialogue last week [AFP]

Bahrain's king has approved parliamentary reforms after the suppression of pro-democracy protests in March, but they fall short of demands made by opposition groups.

The process "reflects the determination [of the participants] to rise above the latest incidents," King Hamad bin Isa said in a televised speech on Thursday.

"We have ordered the executive and legislative authorities to take the necessary measures to approve the agreements," he said after receiving a report by the state-appointed National Dialogue, set up to address grievances after the government crackdown.

The changes grant more powers of scrutiny for the elected lower house, but preserve the dominance of an upper house appointed by the royal elite.

The country's largest Shia opposition group, Wefaq, walked out of the dialogue last week, calling it "theatre".

Khalil al-Marzouq, Wefaq spokesman, said the final proposals vindicated his group's decision to boycott.

"The reason we pulled out is because of this. The upper house should only be there for consultation," he said.

'Will of the people'

The lower house of parliament currently holds limited authority since all the country's decisions, including the appointment of government ministers, ultimately rest with the king.

Other proposed reforms are aimed at addressing "the need for fairer electoral constituencies", though the recommendations stopped short of specifically calling for the realigning of electoral districts that members of the opposition say are unfairly drawn.

Click here for more of Al Jazeera's coverage on Bahrain

According to the new proposal, the prime minister, appointed by the king, would have to secure the approval of parliament for members of his government.

"If MPs disapprove they can vote to reject the entire government. Parliament will also have the power to reject the government's four-year work plan," it said.

"These reforms guarantee that the government's composition and work plan will reflect the will of the people."

It also said cabinet ministers would have to attend some parliament sessions and face questioning in the open chamber rather than within the framework of committees.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, the prime minister of 40 years, is regarded as a leading figure within the ruling family who opposes concessions to the opposition.

Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet, is seen as a fault line for tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the leader of Sunni Islam.

Bahrain's Sunni Muslim rulers called in troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in March to help quell protests dominated by the majority Shia community.

The government said the unrest was sectarian and backed by non-Arab Shia power Iran, which the Bahraini Shias have denied.

Source:
Agencies
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