The king of Bahrain has proposed constitutional reforms that give more power to the Gulf state’s elected lower house of parliament, but that fall short of demands by the majority Shi’ite-led opposition.
In a nationally televised address Sunday, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa proposed giving the 40-member lower house the ability to approve and withdraw confidence from Cabinets selected by his minority ruling Sunni dynasty. He also offered to give elected Bahraini lawmakers greater authority to question and remove ministers.
The proposed constitutional amendments also would require the king to hold wider discussions with political and judicial leaders before any decision to dissolve parliament and call new elections.
Bahraini opposition activists dismissed the king’s reform ideas, describing them as out of touch with reality. The island state’s Shi’ites led mass protests last year demanding a full constitutional monarchy in which fellow Shi’ites are elected to key Cabinet posts. The opposition also complains that parliament’s elected lower house is neutralized by an unelected upper house, or Shura council, appointed by the king.
Bahrain’s Sunni-led government crushed those pro-democracy protests last March with help from troops of neighboring Sunni-majority Gulf states. At least 35 people were killed in the crackdown, including policemen. Smaller confrontations between opposition protesters and security forces have continued on a regular basis.
Bahraini state television says King Hamad based his reform plans on a national dialogue that he organized last year in response to the uprising. Bahrain’s main Shi’ite opposition party Wefaq withdraw from that dialogue, saying it did not go far enough to offer real change.