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BAHRAIN - Reform Measures Under Shaikh Hamad.

Soon after Shaikh Hamad took office, there were indications that he would be willing to address social and political issues important to the emirate. That significant changes were on the way became clear after the new emir appointed a 46-member Supreme National Council (SNC) to set guidelines for the creation of an entirely new political structure for the island.

The SNC held its first meeting in early December 2000 in a closed session at the Riffa Palace. Among the committee's members were six women as well as lawyers, university professors and leading members of Bahraini society. By late January 2001 the SNC had finished its deliberations and Bahraini newspapers reported that it had recommended that a referendum on the National Action Charter (NAC), which envisaged turning Bahrain to a constitutional monarchy and giving it an elected parliament should be held on Feb. 14-15.

Yet the first indication that major change was on the cards came only when the referendum was held successfully, in a carnival atmosphere. A total of 98.4% of the electorate voted "yes" in the referendum. On Feb. 17, Emir Shaikh Hamad endorsed the NAC through Emiri Decree No. 17 for 2001. A committee headed by Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad was set up to implement the new principles of the NAC, which includes the expansion of personal freedom and equal rights. At the time, the government promised to bring in the political reforms set out in the NAC by the end of 2004.

About two years ahead of schedule, on Feb. 14, 2002, exactly a year after the NAC referendum, Shaikh Hamad declared Bahrain a constitutional monarchy and announced that parliamentary elections would be held in October, which will be the country's first polls in 27 years. Sheikh Hamad also set May 9 as the date for reviving municipal elections that will see women running for office for the first time; in the meantime, legislation has been approved giving women the right to stand for public office.

As envisaged under the new system, there will be two tiers of government, each with 40 members, under the King. The Shura or consultative council, appointed by Sheikh Hamad and his successors and the House of Representatives voted for by the people. Both will have a say in Bahrain's laws while the house will also have a watching brief over government. The House of Representatives will have the power to question ministers, launch investigations and even remove individuals from office if their performance is unacceptable. The governing administration will work along the American system with appointed technocrats running things on a day-to-day basis.

With Bahrain becoming a constitutional monarch, Shaikh Hamad elevated himself to the position of King, from that of Emir. In announcing these changes, he said the decisions had been taken "to resume democracy as soon as possible for the welfare and prosperity of Bahrain".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Redrawing the Islamic Map
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7BAHR
Date:Mar 18, 2002
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