Bahrain’s Emir Vows Municipal Vote
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Bahrain’s emir pledged Saturday that his Gulf island state will gradually install a fully elected parliament and hold municipal elections.
The move would be the most far-reaching constitutional reform here since Bahrain’s national assembly was dissolved 25 years ago.
``There is no turning back,″ Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said in a National Day speech broadcast live to the nation. He called the planned elections ``the foundation stones for democratic and political development.″
The emir did not give a time frame for when the parliament would be installed or when the municipal elections would be held.
As in most Gulf Arab states, power in Bahrain is concentrated in the hands of the royal family and political and press freedoms are limited. Bahrain was among the first countries in the region to experiment with democracy, establishing a national assembly in 1973, but it was dissolved two years later and never reconvened.
The 50-year-old Sheik Hamad took office last year following his father’s death. He has since shown a desire to address social and political issues in Bahrain, which was shaken in the mid-1990s by violent agitation for reform.
The election announcement fell in line with the work of a committee the emir appointed last month to map out the country’s political future. The committee suggested that an elected parliament alongside an appointed consultative council would be the best way to the govern the tiny Gulf island.
``The parliament will work closely with the Shura Council, which comprises experienced and specialized people, to benefit from their views and perception,″ Sheik Hamad said.
National Day marks Bahrain’s independence from Britain on Dec. 16, 1971. In another National Day action, Sheik Hamad pardoned 65 prisoners and announced a range of benefits for the island’s 400,000 citizens, including cheaper electricity for the needy and a salary bonus for government employees.