Purpose of holding democratic elections in Bahrain

Current human rights are a ‘sham to deceive’ the West, reports Jakub Szweda

Manama, Bahrain – Human rights activists and groups have recently criticised the regime in Bahrain for continuous attempts to overpower opinions of the opposition and jail more protestors.

Organisations, including the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Gulf Center for Human Rights, have all expressed their concern over recent sentencing of human rights activists. Many of them have been seriously injured, and even tortured or killed.

In November, people were able to take part in their country’s first parliamentary elections since the protests boycotting the current government and political system began in early spring of 2011. Bahraini Shia opposition rejected the democratic elections after saying the government is not taking anyone against their politics ‘seriously’.

Five opposition political parties, including Al Wefaq, have announced in October that they will not take part in the upcoming elections, stating that they will not be fair because the government uses them as a method to create an “absolute rule” in Bahrain. “This election is a government election,” said Ali Salman, head of Al-Wefaq.

Although the country in the Persian Gulf is ruled by a Sunni-Islam monarchy, who see themselves as the more traditional branch of Islam, the majority of Bahraini people are Shias, the second largest denomination of the religion.

Bahrain is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy run by the King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa from the House of Khalifa.

The opposition, according to political analysts, wants Bahrain to become a constitutional monarchy, end the long-running ruling of the Al-Khalifah family and demands an independent prime minister, a step the current government is not willing to take in the near future.

‘Abuse of human rights’

Bahrain’s human rights issues have ‘regressed’ further in the last 2 years and the government refuses to make any effort to introduce new reforms able to improve the current situation, according to Human Rights Watch. Police and security forces continue to abuse power, and arrest activists and individuals in towns where the government is often boycotted.

“The king of Bahrain has all the power, he appoints the government, he appoints 40 MPs,” explained Said Yousif Almuhafdah, an activist from Bahrain Center for Human Rights ”They have all the power and they can vote for or against any request from the ‘other’ parliament which is elected by the people,” he added.

“The general representation of electoral districts is unfair, for example Shiites make up a majority in Bahrain, but in the House of Representatives, if all Shiites participated in the elections, they will get 12 seats out of forty and the rest will go to Sunnis,” added Almuhafdah. “All because of poor distribution circuits, one Shiite-MP represents 16 000 citizens and one Sunni-NP represents one hundred civilians.”

The government is still yet to take actions and uncover people responsible for serious human rights violations, which have been taking place since the protests in 2011, where civilians have been tortured to death in custody.

Said Yousif Almuhafdah, Vice President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and an activist stated: “the main problem in Bahrain is culture of impunity that lead to the grave human rights abuse and makes the abuses continue.”

He added that “all of those responsible” of killing more than 100 protesters “were not held accountable” and additionally there are 3500 political detainees in jail “just for their views. The law is not implanted in Bahrain, torture is a massive issue and most of the people in jail were tortured.”

In February 2011, more than half of Bahraini people protested against the corruption, inequalities and poor representation of the government. The Bahrain government responded to the boycotts by dispatching security forces to places where peaceful anti-governmental protests took place. This subsequently resulted in thousands of arrested activists, injuries and dozens of deaths.

John Lubbock, a researcher and activist for Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said: “I worry, and many other activists worry, that there are people in Bahrain, a part of the sheer community, who get a raw deal when it comes to things like education, government provision and welfare.”

“It is not unusual to find people on housing waiting lists for 25 years and they still struggle to get an appropriate place for their families ‘because they are not pro-government enough’.

He added that there are people that are “not very well educated” in Bahrain, those are the people that could be “tempted to be radicalised towards doing something more extreme”, and this could then lead to political leaders wanting to say that democracy is a Westernised sham.

International organisations have also raised their concern about the situation in Bahrain. “We call upon the Government of Bahrain to fully comply with its international human rights commitments, including respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and association, and urge all demonstrators to exercise these rights in a peaceful manner,” said a spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

‘Sham’

Democratic elections began to take place when new constitution was introduced in 2002. The political unrest was happening from the 70s onwards, the main goal of those political movements, especially in the 00s and 90s, was to return to a constitution.

Pro-democracy activists and civilians were asking the government to reinstate the 1973 constitution which featured some form of elections to the Bahraini body, when the government reformed, some of the basic reforms in late 90s were again introduced.

“[However] reforms the government undertook in 2001 and 2002, widely stated by people in Bahrain, had no effect of easing in social consciousness,” said Lubbock. “At the moment [Bahraini people] are having very superficial commitments to parliamentary democracy because it is making the situation worse since it is meaningless.”

“Bahrain doesn’t have many natural resources so they can’t really survive independently from just their neighbours in the Gulf,” he explained. Persian Gulf’s island is also heavily dependent on food imports in order to satisfy its national needs in relation to animal and animal products, according to FAO. Natural gas and petroleum are the only natural resources in Bahrain, which are significantly large. “Their position in comparison to Saudi Arabia or Qatar [is negative], they compete in this very economically liberalised landscape,” Lubbock added.

He stated that “having any resemblance of democracy is a PR” stunt and from the point of view of the government “there are other states, other goals of the state, that have some form of democratic process.”

“The limited parliamentary system is a sham version of what democracy should look like. They care about their reputation internationally,” Lubbock said.

He added that such actions are undertaken to “present an image to the West of a place that is more open to business” and more open to the West like their neighbours, for example Saudi Arabia.

“Participation in the elections should be a result of dialogue, reconciliation and transitional justice, but the parliament can’t do anything,” stated Said Yousif Almuhafdah.

He explained that the “King is in charge of the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches. He appoints members of the government, judges and prosecutors. It violates human rights and restricts the basic freedom of citizens.”

CC BY-SA 2.0 Andries Oudshoorn

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