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Bahrain - Politics - 2002 Election

Citizens do not have the right to change their Government or their political system; however, the Constitution provided for the first democratically elected political institution since the dissolution of the National Assembly in 1975. On 14 February 2002, the country became a monarchy with a constitution. Elections for the newly established Council of Deputies took place on October 24. The King appoints the Prime Minister, who then proposes Cabinet Ministers that are appointed by the King. Members of the ruling family hold all security-related offices.

In February 2001, an overwhelming majority of eligible citizens (98.4 percent), both male and female, endorsed a government plan called the National Action Charter, to restore constitutional rule. The Constitution was drafted in secret and delivered to the people as a royal grant in February.

In May the country's voters elected municipal councils in the first election among the Arab Gulf states that allowed men and women to participate as both voters and candidates. These councils have authority to allocate resources in their jurisdiction for local services. Funding comes from taxes collected by the Ministry of Municipalities and the Environment. These councils began meeting in September, but their role is still being defined.

The 40 elected members of the Representative Council shared legislative powers with the King and with the 40 members of the Shura Council appointed by the King. Collectively, the two chambers are known as the National Assembly. Either chamber may propose legislation, but the Cabinet's Office of Legal Affairs must draft the actual text of laws. The King may veto laws passed by the National Assembly, which may override a veto by a two-thirds majority vote. If the legislature overrides a veto, the King must promulgate the law within 1 month. The King may dissolve the Representative Council at his discretion, and he retains the power to amend the Constitution and propose, ratify, and promulgate laws. Either council may question government ministers and the Representative Council may pass by a two-thirds majority votes of no confidence that require the minister's resignation. The Representative Council may also introduce a resolution indicating it cannot cooperate with the Prime Minister. The entire National Assembly would then have to pass the resolution by a two-thirds majority that would require the King to either dismiss the Prime Minister or dissolve the Council of Deputies.

The Political Rights and Election Laws promulgated in July placed restrictions on the freedoms of speech and association (see Sections 2.a. and 2.b.). There were no political parties. The Government drew the electoral districts in both the municipal council and the legislative elections to protect Sunni interests by creating several districts with small populations likely to elect a Sunni candidate. In contrast, districts where a Shi'a candidate was likely to win were drawn to include large numbers of voters, a formula that diluted the voting strength of the Shi'a community. International observers commented that this gerrymandering generally violated the one-man one-vote principle common to most democracies. They also observed that candidates were not allowed to visually observe ballot counting and that there was an incomplete reporting of election results during the election process.

The country held its first elections in nearly 3 decades during the year. In May voters elected municipal councils. In October slightly more than half of eligible voters elected 40 members to the Representative Council. The largest political society, joined by three other smaller societies, chose not to participate in the October elections, citing grievances over the Constitution, especially the provisions that equalize the powers of the elected Council of Deputies and the appointed Shura Council. There were no government candidates. Informed observers reported that the election campaigning and voting was substantially free and fair.

Although women candidates stood in both elections, none were elected to office. However, in the October elections, two women forced their competitors into runoffs in which each woman received more than 40 percent of the vote. The King appointed six women to the Shura Council. There were no women at the ministerial levels of Government. The majority of women who chose to work in the Government did so in a support capacity, and only a few attained senior positions within their respective ministries or agencies. Women may vote and run for elected office. Although no women were elected in either the municipal or legislative elections, the Constitution provides for the right of women to participate and was a consistent refrain in the public statements of both the King and the Crown Prince. Turnout for municipal councils elections in May was approximately 51 percent; just over 52 percent of the voters who turned out for those elections were women. Turnout for the October election was just over 53 percent, according to Government figures; the Government did not publish the number of women voters.

The King appointed one Christian and one Jewish member to the Shura Council. Twenty-one Shura Council members were Shi'a Muslims and 17 were Sunni. Approximately one-third of the cabinet ministers were Shi'a.

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