Constitution of Bahrain

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Bahrain has had two constitutions in its modern history. The first one was promulgated in 1973, and the second one in 2002.

1973 Constitution[edit]

The constitution of 1973 was written shortly after Bahrain's independence from Britain in 1971. In 1972, the then ruler Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa issued a decree providing for the election of a Constituent Assembly that would be responsible for drafting and ratifying the constitution. The electorate of the constituent assembly was native-born male citizens aged twenty years or older. The constituent assembly consisted of twenty-two elected delegates, plus the twelve members of the Council of Ministers and eight members directly appointed by the emir Shaikh Isa.[1]

The constitution drawn up provided for a unicameral legislature (the National Assembly) consisting of 30 members elected through "universal suffrage" (though franchise was restricted to males), plus fourteen royally-appointed government ministers who are ex officio members. The constitution was enacted by amiri decree in December 1973.[1]

Only one parliamentary election was ever held under the 1973 Constitution (see: Bahraini parliamentary election, 1973) before it was abrogated by the emir Shaikh Isa in 1975. The country was governed under emergency laws from 1975 to 2002.[1]

2002 Constitution[edit]

After the death of the Amir Shaikh Isa Al Khalifa in 1999, his throne was taken over by his son Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Seeking to bring an end to the 1990s uprising in Bahrain, he announced a new set of democratic reforms, including a promise to return to constitutional rule.

In 2001 Emir Hamad put forward the National Action Charter which would return the country to constitutional rule. However the opposition was opposed to the Charter's call for an amendment to the 1973 Constitution, changing the legislature from unicameral to bicameral. The Charter stated that "the legislature will consist of two chambers, namely one that is constituted through free, direct elections whose mandate will be to enact laws, and a second one that would have people with experience and expertise who would give advice as necessary." The opposition groups deemed this statement to be too ambiguous, and remained opposed to the Charter. Also as part of the new Constitution the country was raised in status from an Emirate to a Kingdom.

Emir Hamad responded by holding a highly publicised meeting with the spiritual leaders of the Shia Islamist opposition. He signed a document clarifying that only the elected lower house of the parliament would have legislative power, while the appointed upper house would have a strictly advisory role. Upon this assurance, the main opposition groups accepted the Charter and called for a 'Yes' vote in the national referendum. The Charter was accepted in the 2001 referendum with 98.4% voting 'Yes' for it.

However, in 2002 Emir (now King) Hamad promulgated the 2002 Constitution, without any public consultation, in which both the elected and the royally-appointed chambers of parliament were given equal legislative powers, going back on his public promise of 2001. As a result, the parliamentary elections due to be held later that year were boycotted by a group of four political societies; Al Wefaq, a Shia Islamist group, thought to be the most popular political society in the country, National Democratic Action, the largest Leftist political society, Islamic Action Society, a marginal Shia Islamist society, and the Nationalist Democratic Rally Society, a marginal Arab Nationalist society.

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