Bahrain to hold vote on constitutional monarchy reform

A referendum on turning Bahrain to a constitutional monarchy and giving it an elected parliament will be held February 14-15, local newspapers have reported.

A referendum on turning Bahrain to a constitutional monarchy and giving it an elected parliament will be held February 14-15, local newspapers have reported.

The date was set by the Gulf state's ruler, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in an emiri decree published in the newspapers. The result will be announced 24 hours after voting ends, it said.

Voters will be asked to cast a "yes" or "no" vote on a "national charter" under which an elected parliament will be created. The charter also provides for the creation of an appointed consultative council, an independent judiciary and a body to investigate complaints from the public.

The national charter was drafted by a 46-member committee appointed by Sheik Hamad and led by Justice Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Khalid Al Khalifa. Mandated to map out the country's political future, the committee comprised six women - a rarity for such a high-ranking body in the Gulf Arab region- as well as lawyers, university professors and leading members of Bahraini society.

A 1973 constitution established a national assembly in Bahrain, but it was dissolved in 1975 and has never reconvened. Some articles of that constitution also have been suspended.

The national charter is a bold move towards democratic and political reform in Bahrain, a long-time U.S. ally and a regional business hub. It sets a precedent that looks to provide for more political freedom in a state in which - as in most Gulf Arab countries- power is concentrated in the hands of the royal family

Sheik Hamad is among a new generation of leaders in the Gulf. Since succeeding his father, who died in 1999, he has shown a willingness to address social and political issues in Bahrain, which was shaken in the mid-1990s by violent agitation for reform.

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