7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Local News

Wefaq misses talks deadline

OPPOSITION group Al Wefaq has missed the deadline to submit its agenda for the National Dialogue, which ended yesterday, despite some members apparently wanting to take part.

Its leader said it was unhappy that opposition groups would be outnumbered by others taking part in the dialogue, which is why it chose not to participate.

Al Wefaq secretary-general Shaikh Ali Salman said although the political society welcomed the dialogue called by His Majesty King Hamad, it still had reservations on how it was being conducted.

He said the dialogue would definitely address some of the demands of his society, but he was not sure how seriously they would be dealt with.

"The opposition groups are clearly a minority on the negotiation table," said Shaikh Salman.

"Even if Al Wefaq participates along with other groups, the opposition will represent close to 100 people with the support of other individuals."

Organisers have sent close to 300 invitations to political societies, human rights groups and non-governmental organisations.

Political societies can nominate five members to represent their society, while non-governmental organisations have to nominate one person, with the addition of individuals from various backgrounds.

The dialogue is scheduled to start from Friday at the Isa Cultural Centre, Juffair.

"Of the 300, participants representing the opposition will be close to 100 individuals in case we take part," said Shaikh Salman.

He admitted some Al Wefaq members wanted to participate in the dialogue, but said the organisation would only enter if His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander, was involved.

Ironically, it was HRH the Crown Prince who first spearheaded attempts at a National Dialogue in February - but Al Wefaq was among political groups who refused to come to the table then.

However, Shaikh Salman said the organisation had submitted a list of demands during the unrest.

Earlier this month, a royal order was issued for parliament chairman Khalifa Al Dhahrani to head the dialogue.

He earlier said views had been received on everything including the formation of the government, electoral constituencies, naturalisation, administrative and financial corruption, state properties and sectarian tensions.

He said that he had no authority to eliminate any of the topics that had been agreed upon during the sessions, but Al Wefaq has opposed his appointment.

The topics will cover four main issues - political, social, economic and human rights.

The last day for receiving the views and names of participants for the dialogue was earlier extended from June 23 in order to provide participants with more time to discuss and present their views for the dialogue process.

Other opposition groups, including National Democratic Action Society, Democratic Progressive Tribune and National Democratic Society, have already sent their draft agenda for the National Dialogue.

"We have not spoken with these groups about their decision to participate and certainly will not stop them from engaging in the talks," said Shaikh Salman.

Al Wefaq was sent an inivitation to participate in the dialogue and asked to nominate five representatives, but declined.

Meanwhile, on the issue of Iran's constant meddling in Bahrain's internal affairs, Shaikh Salman said Bahrainis needed to reach their own solutions.

"We need to find our own solutions and come up with a model that is accepted by all citizens," said Shaikh Salman, although his organisation now looks unlikely to be a part of historic talks that will map out Bahrain's future.

He added that Al Wefaq would continue with peaceful gatherings to highlight demands for political reforms.

"It is our duty to ensure the nation moves forward, as Bahrainis first not as Sunni or Shia," he said.

"The recent unfortunate events have widened this divide and the youth should be united."

Shaikh Salman said Al Wefaq's demands remained the same - including an elected government, a parliament with more powers, weeding out corruption, restrictions on passports for non-Bahrainis, amended constituency boundaries and constitutional amendments.

"I will try my best to find solutions with all parties for the interest of the country and citizens," said Shaikh Salman.

"I strongly believe in the Ruling Family and its governance, but the people also need a constitutional monarchy that paves the way for the progress of our country."

Al Wefaq had 22 MPs in parliament, but they resigned during anti-government protests.

Two are currently in police custody allegedly in connection with the unrest.

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