The Gulf Arab state of Bahrain took a step towards democracy Tuesday, with a high-level committee approving a plan to restore a directly elected parliament suspended 25 years ago and form a constitutional monarchy.
The committee, appointed by Bahrain's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, approved the national charter as part of a modernization program aimed at adapting to the country's "principles, foundations and values," the official GNA agency reported.
"We have made our first steps on the road to democracy," declared a committee member, Ibrahim Beshmi, after the charter was adopted.
The committee assigned to examine the changes, presided over by Justice Minister Sheikh Abdallah Ben Khaled al-Khalifa, had been meeting overnight Monday, and "unanimously approved" the project before it is submitted for final approval Saturday by the emir, the agency said.
A text of the plan, cited by GNA, stipulates that the executive power will be an elected parliament and a Majlis al-Shura, or consultative council.
The committee also outlined plans to "adapt the constitution to transform the state into constitutional monarchy," the report said.
It said the committee had underlined the necessity to consider the "principles, foundations and values upon which society is built."
After approval by the emir, the reforms are set to be subject to a referendum, official sources said without giving a date for a vote.
Bahrain's emir had announced Saturday that his Gulf Arab state, a close ally of the neighboring kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was to restore a directly elected parliament, after the house was dissolved in 1975.
Bahrain introduced an elected parliament in 1972 but it was dissolved three years later for "obstructing the work of government."
The mainly Shiite Muslim opposition has campaigned for it to be restored, sparking unrest that cost at least 38 lives between 1994 and 1999. The unrest eased after Sheikh Hamad took over as emir last year after the death of his father.
But the reform plans have not gone through without some disapproval: six of the 46 members of the committee have resigned in protest over the moves.
Kuwait is the only other Gulf Arab monarchy to have an elected parliament, although women do not have the vote.
Bahrain has, since 1992, had an appointed consultative council of 40 members. In September, a new list included for the first time a Jew, four women, one of them a Christian, and a businessman of Indian origin.
Bahrain could declare itself a kingdom without any change in the ruling system, a senior official said on December 6, reacting to Arab press reports that the emir planned to declare himself king.
Sheikh Hamad said in his national day speech that the other key aims for Bahrain's future were "further economic development and higher living standards for Bahrainis, under a thriving national economy."
"Liberalization of the economy from all obstacles and red-tape and opening the path for investments, without having them delayed by a political or administrational decision, are the main requirements for economic growth," he said -- MANAMA (AFP)
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