Bahrain and Russia favor “people’s right to decide their own fate”

In a high-level meeting between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Bahrain’s King Hamad al-Khalifa, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that in regards to the conflicts in the Middle East, both countries “assert the people’s right to decide their own destiny.” During the meeting, both heads of state discussed the ongoing situation in Syria, and cooperation on international affairs. Over the past few years, Bahrain and Russia have engaged in intensive political dialogue as they move toward cooperation in multiple spheres including energy and infrastructure.

Despite the Bahraini King’s assertion regarding the people’s right to decide their own destiny, voting in Bahrain has had only limited success. In 2002, the King officially introduced a new constitution converting Bahrain’s status from that of an emirate to constitutional monarchy. He called for the country’s first legislative elections in nearly three decades. However, four Shia and secular opposition parties boycotted the election in protest at Parliament’s limited powers vis-à-vis the King and the King-appointed Shura Council. While they participated in the 2006 and 2010 elections, opposition parties boycotted the 2014 elections. In addition, not only have there been complaints regarding the power of the elected parliament, but the voting process itself has come under suspicion of gerrymandering. While Bahrain is majority Shia, Parliament has never reflected this: Al-Wefaq, the largest opposition bloc, won only 18 of 40 seats in 2010, a statistic that does not accurately reflect their size. There have been numerous accusations of drawing voting districts in order to marginalize the Shia vote in the 2002, 2010, and 2014 elections. The gerrymandering of electoral districts and the lack of power given to Parliament, which is elected, vis-à-vis the King, and the Shura Council, whose members are appointed by the King, demonstrates that Bahrain still has a ways to go before it can plausibly claim that the people decide their own destiny.

Tyler Pry is an Advocacy Intern at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

Photo courtesy of Tass