I'm not going to blog frequently on day to day events of Bahraini politics. This is because, to be honest, the scenario has become predictable, mundane, and boring. Opposition members voicing and acting on their concerns, the government obstructing or harrassing them. An ineffectual parliament that just sits on the side and debates who has the most beautiful beard. Government, on the executive and legislative side, passing whatever laws it pleases and acting any policy it wishes. Bar some massive event (such as an uprising) or a radical change in government policy, it will remain so. We'll hear of some other protest obstructed by government. A couple more people being thrown in jail or harrassed, and parliament members growing their beards a couple more inches. and in the end, no change whatsoever to the benefit of the common person. It's like watching a play, where the scriptwriters have run out of new ideas, the actors are getting into a mundane routine, and the viewers, you and me, have reached the point of not giving a toss. Basically, I've reached that point that most of the Bahraini public has reached: I'm completely disillusioned with Bahraini politics. I've been getting much more into what I used to do a lot in my undergraduate degree: Political theory. Hence, I think my posts will get more involved and theoretical, and less concerned with day to day events. If most readers don't like that, then tough. I'm mainly writing this stuff for my own entertainment, and my ego of having something published on the internet. To be honest, I doubt there will be anyone reading this blog nowadays other than me, so let me just start blogging away for my own amusement.
Today's topic is Bahrain's political system. In theory, we're supposed to have a constitutional monarchy. The method of ruling the country is hereditary, where a king reigns as the head of state. The govnment, or the executive branch, is also run by the ruling family. The legislative branch is made up of a directly elected chamber, and an appointed chamber, which are supposed to set laws and rules governing the country, and to monitor and control the activities of the executive branch (government). Finally, we have the judicial branch. the system is supposed to have separation and independence of the three branches. Now, obviously, the system is not working as its supposed to be. The government is all-powerful, setting the policies in the executive branch as it wishes, with no restraint and control from parliament, and the legislative branch is too week and ineffective to place its own laws. Hence, the government is dominating that area as well. Finally, someone will really be hard pressed to argue that our judicial system is independent to a reasonable degree, as it does seem like the judicial system follows the government line very closely.
However, let's construct this thought experiment (one of my lecturers uses that phrase so much, so i decided to put it in as a private joke). Suppose the system does work as it's supposed to, in fact let's suppose it works as well as the opposition want it to work. Suppose we have a functioning, strong parliament, who is able to set laws and to effectively exert control over the executive committee. In this case, would this be a good political system? Will it work, or is it inherently unstable? My main concern with this political system is that it will invariably, and most definitely, lead to constant conflict between the legislative and executive branch. If the system functions as it is supposed to function, then parliament will be mainly made up from people who supposedly represent the people, and most probably opposition figures, while the government obviously is made up of pro-government figures. This will lead to two groups developing, each with starkly different agendas. This, I think can only lead to clashes. This, to use political jargon, is what is known as cohabitiation, where a legislative side and an executive side with completely different agendas have to live with each other, side by side. One of the most famous examples of this is what frequently occured in france, where the president would come from a particular party, and the prime minister (and a majority in congress) from a different party. The latest case of this was when Jacques Chirac and Jospin had to live with each other side by side.
It could be said that any presidential political system in the world will lead to the same problem. After all, the president of the united states might have problems with congress. The difference here, I think, is that the president's party will have a very sizeable presence in congress, even if the party is in the minority. Looking at the u.s. history, it is rare that either the republicans or the democrats have less than 40% of the seats of congress. This gives the president, even if his party is not the majority in congress, a good base to work with. I do not think, however (if we have a proper parliament in bahrain), that this would be the case in Bahrain, where most parliamentarians would probably be opposition figures with completely different agendas than the government's.
The other difference that stands out in Bahrain compared to other countries is that the executive branch is not elected. IN the U.S. for example, the president has voting issues to worry about, and so will not look for conflict with the legislative branch if possible. In Bahrain, however, the executive branch can do as it pleases, as it is not directly accountable to the people. Thus, causing conflict and deadlock with parliament might even suit the government, as voters only have the option of punishing MPs at the ballot box, and not the government, for any conflict that might occur. This issue of conflict, I think, was the main reason why the first parliament in Bahrain failed. The MPs were mainly opposition figures, and they repeatedly got into conflict over the government, whether it was over unions, or new laws. The final straw came when the notorious state security law was put to be passed by the government, and parliament rejected it. the prime minster withdrew his cabinet, and sighted the non-cooperative nature of parliament as the reason for the problem.As a result, the amir duly dissolved parliament and ended the first democratic experience.
It's very hard to find other countries with a similar system to compare Bahrain's one with, as this form of constitutional monarchy seems to be peculiar to the Arabic world. Obviously, morocco and jordan have a similar system, but the legislative assembly is too ineffectual there to base hypotheses and comparisons between the two systems. The most similar country I can think of would be lebanon. This is not because it is a constitutional monarchy, but becaue the president has to be chosen from a certain party with certain interests (christian), while the prime minister has to be from a nother party with certain interests (sunni muslim), etc. Even here, however, the comparison falters. The interests in Lebanon were traditionally drawn across sectarian and religious lines, but it is feasible that over time these lines disappear, as more secular parties that are not based on faith but more on ideology (e.g. libertarians, communists, socialists) that encompass all religions develop. This means that the president and primeminister do not necessarily have to be in conflict with each other. In Bahrain, however, the conflict between the legislative side and the government seems to be inbedded in the system, and it will always prevail. Because of the way system is set up, government will always have its own interests, while the legislative will have conflicting interests.
So what are the problems that arise from this conflict? Well, for one, there is massive inefficiency. Most of the initiatives arising from parliament to government (or vice versa) will be blocked and hampered as much as possible by the other side. If we had a system similar to that in other western countries, where the executive and legislative committee most often come from the same party, this inefficieny would be greatly reduced, as the legislative and executive side will be in agreement.
Furthermore, there is the serious danger of the instability of the system and of it grinding to a complete halt. Continuous haggling and blocking could eventually lead to serious deadlock on issues where compromise is not possible, or where neither side or willing to compromise, and the only way to solve this problem would be for one side to overrule the other. This is exactly what happened last time around, as neither parliament was willing to give into the state security law, and neither was the government willing to back down. A similar situation could arise this time around on an issue such as the naturalization of foreigners, where a group of hardcore MPs might ask for all citizenships given illegally to be reneged, while the government would in no way give in to that. Basically, our system seems to be built on the assumption that a compromise can always be reached between the two sides. If their is failure to reach a compromise, and each side is bent on its viewpoint, then, I think, our system will grind to a complete halt. This is why I have serious doubts about the theoretical foundations of our system, and if it will ever be able to function properly as it stands right now.
How about other alternatives? That, I guess, is a topic for another blog!