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Parliament has a year to prove itself ahead of elections

Following the customary lengthy summer break, many of us were interested to closely follow this week’s parliamentary session; expecting MPs to come back with fresh energy and with a pile of pressing issues to get stuck into.

Instead we were treated to a session with few matters deserving of mention and circular discussion of issues which didn’t seem to go anywhere. For example, a number of MPs such as cleric Majid al-Majid took the time to praise the Government for rejecting a proposal which had been written discussed and agreed on by MPs during the previous year which sought to ban strike action by workers at the aluminium company Alba.

Time was also spent discussing proposals concerning the lack of car parking spaces in Manama, the increasing cost of beach chalets. Deputies also lamented the fact that the Government had repeatedly vetoed most of the private bills which Parliament had submitted, proposing additional spending on youth clubs, community centres and other suggestions. There was also a bizarre discussion led by MP Abdulhamid al-Najjar about what brands of cleaning products were used in mosques and why those leading the call to prayer should play a role in cleaning their own mosque. 

A rather more relevant discussion was had about wrongfully-dismissed employees. MP Jalal al-Kadhim raised the issue of 40 employees who had reportedly been dismissed by a company which had already been failing to pay them for four months. A Ministry of Labour official expressed sympathy but said that this was an issue for the courts. He disputed claims by MPs that poor enforcement of such phenomena was leading to an epidemic of wrongful dismissal incidents.

It was disappointing to see that for such a significant opening session, nearly one quarter of MPs failed to attend (8 out of 40. We hope that the coming months will not see a repeat of past experiences when several weeks running, sessions were cancelled to halted early because the required number of MPs failed to attend.

The vision for a strong and effective Parliament goes right to the heart of King Hamad’s reform and democratization process. Particularly during the year leading up to the late-2018 parliamentary elections, the public needs to see why these institutions matter in their daily lives. 

As well as individual MPs hoping to deserve reelection, it is in all our interests to see maximum public participation in elections in support of the best candidates.

Parliamentary committees

The beginning of previous parliamentary seasons has always seen furious competition for leadership positions in key committees. This year these competitions appear to have been relatively subdued, with many of the previous committee heads keeping their positions. 

Abdullah Bin-Huwail for the fourth year running remained as chairman of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee, with Khalifa al-Ghanim elected as deputy; Abdulrahman Bu-Ali returned for his third year as chair of the Finance Committee, with Jalal Kadhim as deputy; Abbas al-Madhi remains head of the Services Committee – a position he has held since 2012 in the previous Parliament. Osama al-Khaja is his deputy. Ali al-Asoumi commences his third year as head of Public Utilities, with Muhsin al-Bakri as his deputy. Thus the only new chairman is Majid al-Majid in the Legal Committee, deputized by Anas Buhindi.

As happened in the previous year, the key parliamentary blocs have failed in their efforts to capture significant chairman positions (Bin-Huwail, Madhi, Asoumi and Bu-Ali are all independents); which is likely to make rivalry for the other subcommittee positions (Human Rights, Women and Children, Youth and Sport, Palestine) even more fierce. 

One key change is that Women’s Committee Chairwoman Rua al-Haiki has said that she will be standing down. Although Rua was criticized in the past for not taking progressive positions on women’s issues (including her strong opposition to enhanced implementation of the UN CEDAW women’s rights legislation). Her departure opens the field to her male Islamist colleagues who have come to dominate this committee (leading to the resignation of its only other female membership two years ago).  

Salafist MP Anas Buhindi, from the Asalah political society which rejects women’s participation in politics, has indicated his interest in moving from being the deputy-chairman, to the chairman of the Women’s Committee. Citizens for Bahrain has previously argued that MPs who are not explicitly committed to women’s participation in politics and society should be barred from a committee who’s primary purpose is to be an advocate for women’s issues in Parliament.

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