The king of Bahrain has proposed constitutional reforms which he said will strengthen the parliament and limit the powers of the royal family.
In a speech delivered on Sunday, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa promised “new safeguards” to limit his ability to dissolve the lower house of parliament: He would have to consult with leaders of both houses, and the head of the constitutional court, before dismissing lawmakers.
The reforms would also require Khalifa to issue a “royal order” explaining the process for appointing members of the Shura Council, the 40-member upper house, which is entirely appointed by the king.
Parliament would also play a larger role in determining the state budget, and the lower house would have the right to “question and withdraw confidence from ministers,” who are also appointed by the king.
Al-Wefaq’s Khalil al Marzooq says the changes King Hamad is calling for “can be done outside the constitution with bylaws”.
All of these changes are in proposed constitutional amendments which Khalifa said will be transmitted to the parliament.
“The proposed amendments bring greater harmony in the relationship between the executive and legislative branches, in order to achieve a better balance between them,” the king said in his speech.
The speech was quickly panned by members of Al Wefaq, the largest opposition party in Bahrain. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Abdul Jalil Khalil described the reforms as “cosmetic,” and demanded a fully elected legislature.
Activists admit that some of the proposed reforms are modest steps in the right direction, but complain the king is moving far too slowly.
“People very clearly wanted an elected government, they want parliament that has actual power,” said Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights in Manama. “If we go into this detail, and go step by step… it’s going to be 100 years before an elected parliament has power.”
Anti-government protests continue across the island kingdom, nearly a year after the current uprising began.
At least 13 people were reportedly injured by police during a protest in Manama on Friday.
Matar Ibrahim, a former member of parliament from Al Wefaq, accused police of firing tear gas canisters at the protesters.