Bahrain opposition describes King’s proposed reforms as marginal

Bahrain not out of political crisis yet

DUBAI - The king of Bahrain introduced on Sunday constitutional reforms that give more power to the elected parliament, but fall far short of the demands set down by the Shiite-led opposition.
King Hamad referred his draft proposals to the national council, including the all-appointed Shura (consultative) council and the lower elected chamber, for ratification, the BNA state news agency reported.
The reforms fall in line with "our desire to preserve the stability of the homeland," King Hamad said in an address to the nation, ahead of proposing the draft amendments aimed at diffusing tension sparked after a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests in mid-March.
Under the proposed reforms, the king will have to "ask the opinion of the heads of the Shura council, parliament and the constitutional court" before dissolving the parliament, instead of just discussing it with the prime minister.
The monarch also proposed that the government "gains the vote of confidence if its programme is accepted" after a parliamentary debate, a move he said was designed to give the people a stronger voice in government policy.
The government has been headed for over four decades by King Hamad's uncle, Prince Khalifa bin Salman -- a main member of the Sunni ruling family.
If the amendments are ratified, the elected chamber will be able to refuse cooperation with the government and call for public debate on any issue, without first seeking approval from the upper house.
But the reforms fall far short of the opposition's demands, which include instituting a full constitutional monarchy where the prime minister would be chosen from the elected lower house.
The opposition has also called for a total overhaul of the judicial system and electoral districts to secure better representation.
"These reforms are marginal," said former opposition MP Matar Matar.
"They do not meet the demands, nor the promises" made in the principles for dialogue announced by Crown Prince Salman last year to end the unrest.
A report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, commissioned by King Hamad, found that 35 people were killed in the crackdown on protests, including five security personnel and five detainees were tortured to death in custody. Hundreds were injured during the unrest.