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

Group condemned

A BAHRAINI opposition group has been blasted by the government, which accused it of trying to impose its will on the rest of the population.

The Information Affairs Authority (IAA) said Al Wefaq National Islamic Society had "no right" to force its demands or dictate its conditions on the nation.

It followed comments by Al Wefaq secretary-general Shaikh Ali Salman, who earlier this week criticised the new-look parliament following by-elections last month.

"Al Wefaq Islamic Society does not match the reality on the ground, but rather imposes their demands on the larger community attempting to outline the future of Bahrain based on its own narrow vision and personal perceptions," said an IAA statement.

The statement challenged claims that parliamentary by-elections, which took place amid allegations of threats and intimidation of voters, were illegitimate due to the low turnout of 17.4 per cent.

It stressed that this only applied to the 14 constituencies being contested and that the overall parliament, including all 40 seats, represented a 51 per cent voter turnout.

The statement also questioned Al Wefaq's claims that it represented the majority of Bahrainis eligible to vote, since in parliamentary elections last October it only secured 82,000 votes out of the 240,000 eligible to cast their ballot.

Last month's by-election was called to fill 18 seats vacated by Al Wefaq in February, but four were won by candidates who stood unopposed.

"The political reform and civil achievements that Bahrain has achieved in the past decade took the Western world hundreds of years to achieve," said the statement.

It added this was particularly true for women, who have made it into Bahrain's parliament and hold other senior posts.

"This is especially true in regards to raising the profile of women in the region and having them participate in the developmental process on the nation and the ongoing reform process initiated by His Majesty King Hamad," it said.

Meanwhile, the IAA said all Bahrainis supported reform and that would continue, but Al Wefaq had no right to dictate that process.

"The way in which Al Wefaq Islamic Society chose to demand reform was not embraced by the majority of Bahrainis or the major political powers," it added.

Answering criticisms of the justice system and demands for an independent judiciary, the IAA highlighted last week's decision to by Bahrain's Attorney General to order retrials for a group of medics convicted in the National Safety Court.

"Freedom of expression has always been a right for the people of Bahrain but must be exercised in a peaceful manner within the laws of the constitution," it said.

Al Wefaq has also criticised the upper chamber of the National Assembly, the Shura Council, which is appointed by the King and has legislative powers alongside parliament.

"Our Arab Muslim culture has deep historic roots dating back to the early days of Islam in the practice of consultation through an appointed Shura," it said, adding that such a body gives community leaders who would not run for elected office an opportunity to contribute to the betterment of Bahrain.

It also said an elected democratic government took many forms around the world.

"Based on the outcomes of the National Dialogue, the Cabinet will now have to be ratified by the Parliament, which now will have enhanced power and scrutiny over the government," said the statement.

Earlier yesterday, Al Wefaq and four other opposition groups spelled out their demands and said they were ready to hold talks with the government during a Press conference at the National Democratic Action Society (NDAS), in Umm Al Hassam.

The five political societies were part of a seven-group alliance formed in February that rejected unconditional dialogue with the government during the height of the unrest.

Their demands include an elected government, parliament with more powers to grill ministers, changes to electoral boundaries, more freedom of expression, restrictions on people receiving Bahraini citizenship and an independent judiciary.

Demands

The five societies signed a document of demands including NDAS, Al Wefaq, Al Ekha National Society, Nationalist Democratic Society and National Democratic Assemblage.

During the Press conference, when asked about gangs of anti-government youths blocking roads, attacking civilians and spreading fear in the community, Shaikh Salman claimed that his organisation was asking Al Wefaq's supporters to remain peaceful.

"We will continue to meet our supporters and ask them to be peaceful in their demands," he said. "Our members are holding talks with youth asking them to reject any violent methods."

Two other societies that were part of the seven-group alliance formed in February - the Democratic Progressive Tribune and Islamic Action Society (Al Amal) - did not attend yesterday's meeting.






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