A new beginning: A week in Parliament
Following the summer recess, Parliament was formally opened once again on 11 October, marked by a formal speech by King Hamad, in which he emphasized that Bahraini citizens must be the first priority of legislators, despite economic challenges.
The first session of the elected house of Parliament, the Council of Deputies, got under way on Tuesday 13 October. However, the key issue of chairmanship of each of the parliamentary committees was put off until an emergency session the following day. The successful candidates are named below.
The Housing Minister, Bassim al-Hamar, was in Parliament for its first weekly session on 13 October for a highly-charged debate on housing projects and allocation of housing support. Several MPs stressed the need to increase levels of housing support, with Mohammed al-Ammadi arguing that the current level of BD 100 “isn’t enough for young people to rent a flat - or even a lobster cage”. This prompted an intervention from the Parliament Minister who called for Al-Ammadi’s turn of phrase to be struck from the record, but MPs voted him down.
Several MPs, like Mohammed al-Jowder and Ahmed Qaratah were strongly critical about the length of waiting lists for housing applications – some of which for Manama reportedly go back to 1994. Jalal al-Mahfoudh called for recently-naturalized Bahrainis to not be eligible for housing provision.
The outspoken criticism from MPs on housing and a range of issues may reflect their exposure to the growing frustrations of local constituents over the summer months regarding issues of living standards.
Other weekly business
- Many MPs reacted angrily this week at reports that ten out of twenty formal proposals submitted by MPs had been rejected by Ministers.
- A new committee has been formed to review and respond to the King’s speech at the opening of Parliament.
- MPs agreed on the urgent handling of a bill for restricting environmentally damaging fishing methods, as well as proposals for increasing fish stocks.
- The Committee for investigating meat unfit for consumption has been given an extension to the time allotted for conducting its probe.
Despite the efforts of several MPs, the issue of subsidy reform was not one of the major subjects of debate during this week’s parliamentary session. Several MPs are pushing for an open parliamentary debate at the earliest possible juncture, and the parliamentary committee for studying the subsidies issue is due to be submitting its final report back to Parliament.
There was anger among many MPs that the Government went ahead in implementing subsidy reform at the beginning of October without adopting proposals from MPs, and there was frustration that the proposal of a smart card system for subsidy allocation wasn’t taken up, although the Government has now mandated a committee of officials to review the issue.
Confirmation of parliamentary committees
The issue of who participates in parliamentary committees and who chairs these has been a major issue of discussion throughout much of the summer for MPs and at times reports in the press indicated that there may be some quite radical changes on the way. During the 13 October parliamentary session, Parliament Chairman Ahmed al-Mulla said that the Administration had decided that membership of committees should remain the same – in line with what he described as standard practice. This received an angry response from many MPs, 19 of whom voted against this decision (15 agreed, 5 abstained). The 14 October debate on this issue, this agreed several changes in personnel.
Regarding the powerful five permanent committees and who would chair these, the final decision was also put off for the emergency debate on 14 October. During this session, it was decided that the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee and the Services Committee, Abdullah Bin-Huwail and Abbas al-Madhi respectively would remain unchallenged as chairmen of these two committees, with Mohammed al-Jowder and Mohammed al-Maarifi as their deputies.
It was uncontestedly agreed that Abdulrahman Bu-Ali would take over from Isa al-Kooheji as Chairman of the Finance Committee, with Jalal al-Mahfoudh as his deputy. Meanwhile Adel al-Asoumi was confirmed as Chairman of the Public Utilities Committee, taking over from Jamal Dawoud, with Muhsin al-Bakri deputizing.
Ali al-Atish was the uncontested candidate for taking over the Legal Committee after Majid al-Majid stepped aside. Anas Buhindi will be Al-Atish’s deputy.
The picture is far less clear for the other parliamentary committees, with substantial numbers of MPs having expressed their intentions previously to transfer to different positions and MPs jostling for chairmanship positions.
One significant change for parliamentarians is the incorporation of two ministry roles – Minister of Information and Minister of Parliament – into a single duty. So now the existing Information Minister, Isa Abdulrahman al-Hammadi, is also the Parliament Minister, with a role in coordinating the weekly sessions of the Council of Representatives and the appointed Shura Council.
The issue of who would head the key committees seems to have stimulated efforts to establish parliamentary blocs, in a Parliament which to date has been dominated by independent MPs. For many months there have been indications that several of the centre-ground Sunni MPs would form an alliance, with the name “the Bahrain National Bloc” referred to in the press on several occasions, possibly alongside an Accord Bloc (Kutlat al-Tawafuq).
On other occasions, sources indicated that all of these MPs (around ten figures) would come together in a single bloc (including Adel al-Asoumi, Abdulrahman Bu-Ali, Ahmed Qaratah, Muhsin al-Bakri, Mohammed al-Maarifi, Dhiyab al-Noaimi, Ibrahim al-Hammadi, Abdullah Bin-Huwail and Isa Turki – although Mohammed al-Jowder, Abdulrahman Bumjaid and Ali Bufarsan had previously also been cited as affiliating themselves with Ahmed Qaratah in a National Bloc; and Khalifa al-Ghanim had been mentioned along with Isa Turki and others as being part of the Accord Bloc).
Although there has been little serious talk recently about an Islamist or Salafist coalition, it is notable that Islamist figures like Abdulhalim Murad, Ali al-Muqla, Anas Buhindi, Abdulhamid al-Najjar, Nabil al-Balooshi and even Mohammed al-Ammadi and Jamal Dawoud have stayed away from this touted Sunni centre-ground coalition.
In recent days the media has started talking about a possible new bloc to be announced. There is a clear aim in this coalition to straddle the sectarian divide, because as well as including most of the Shia MPs (Jalal al-Mahfoudh, Ghazi Al Rahmah, Abbas al-Madhi, Nasir al-Qaseer, Majid al-Asfour, Majid al-Majid, Jamila al-Sammak, Ali al-Aradi, Fatimah al-Asfour and Adel Bin-Hamid); the bloc also includes several prominent Sunni figures, like Isa al-Kooheji, Hamad al-Dossary and Khalid al-Shaer.
Only a small number of MPs, such as Rua al-Haiki, Ali al-Atish and Mohammed al-Ahmed, have so far not been clearly indicated as leaning towards one or the other of these blocs, so the question is whether these coalition-building efforts signal a very different manner of doing business in the coming Parliament.
As the new parliamentary term gets underway, it would appear that, despite intentions, these coalition-building efforts have had little impact on chairmanship of the key committees. For example, one of the most significant changes is Ali al-Atish heading the Legal Committee and he wasn’t even affiliating himself with any bloc. The open question is whether these blocs can have a significant impact on the business of Parliament from now on.
Many MPs stressed the importance of forming blocs, in order to have better-coordinated policy stances and to help form a united front vis-à-vis the Government. However, unless MPs can be compelled to vote in agreement with the rest of their bloc, this may be ineffective.
Furthermore, in relation to the key political issues (housing, services, economy…) there would seem to be few ideological differences between these blocs, which may make them less relevant in dealing with day-to-day political issues.
Know your deputy: MPs profiles
Adel al-Asoumi - 1st Capital
Ahmed Qaratah - 2nd Capital
Adel Bin-Hamid Abdulhussain - 3rd Capital
Deputy-Head of Parliamentary Human Rights Committee
Abdulrahman Bumjaid - 4th Capital
Nasser al-Qaseer - 5th Capital
Deputy Head of the Permanent Committee for Financial and Economic Matters
Ali al-Atish - 6th Capital
Osamah al-Khajah - 7th Capital
Shaikh Majid al-Asfour - 8th Capital
Mohammed Jaffar Milad - 9th Capital
Nabil al-Balooshi - 10th Capital
Ali Bufarsan - 1st Muharraq
Head of Committee for Youth and Sports
Ibrahim al-Hammadi - 2nd Muharraq
Jamal Buhassan - 3rd Muharraq
Isa al-Kooheji - 4th Muharraq
Head of the Permanent Committee for Financial and Economic Matters
Mohammed al-Jowder - 5th Muharraq
Abbas al-Madhi - 6th Muharraq
Ali al-Muqla - 7th Muharraq
Abdulrahman Bu-Ali - 8th Muharraq
Fatimah al-Asfour – 1st Northern
Deputy Head of the Committee for Women and Children
Jalal Kadhim al-Mahfoudh - 2nd Northern
Deputy Head of Committee for Youth and Sports
Hamad al-Dossary - 3rd Northern
Ghazi Al Rahmah - 4th Northern
Deputy Head of Permanent Committee for Public Utilities and Environment
Ali al-Aradi - 5th Northern
Deputy Head of Parliament
Rua al-Haiki - 6th Northern
Shaikh Majid al-Majid - 7th Northern
Head of the Permanent Committee for Shari’ah and Legal Matters
Dr. Isa Turki - 8th Northern
Abdulhamid Abdulhussain al-Najjar - 9th Northern
Deputy Head of Committee for Supporting the Palestinian People
Mohammed al-Ammadi - 10th Northern
Head of Committee for Supporting the Palestinian People
Jamal Dawoud - 11th Northern
Head of Permanent Committee for Public Utilities and Environment
Jamila al-Sammak - 12th Northern
Head of the Committee for Women and Children
Khalid al-Shaer - 1st Southern
Head of Parliamentary Human Rights Committee
Mohammed al-Ahmed - 2nd Southern
Abdulhalim Murad - 3rd Southern
Second Deputy Head of Parliament
Mohammed al-Maarifi - 4th Southern
Deputy Head of the Permanent Committee for Services
Khalifa al-Ghanim - 5th Southern
Anas Buhindi - 6th Southern
Deputy Head of the Permanent Committee for Shari’ah and Legal Matters
Abdullah Bin-Huwail - 7th Southern
Head of the Permanent Committee for Foreign, Defence and National Security Affairs
Dhiyab al-Noaimi - 8th Southern
Mohsin al-Bakri - 9th Southern
Ahmed al-Mulla - 10th Southern
Head of Parliament