Towards a Mature Relation between the
Government and the Opposition

The reform project has acknowledged the necessity of the existence of the opposition as part of the political game and paved the way for the establishment of political societies (parties). It has also encouraged political societies to compete for the Parliament. Although these are pioneering steps, after two elections, it appears that what has been accomplished so far is not enough to make the opposition a real partner in the decision-making. Even in the Parliament, the elected members found it extremely difficult to adopt laws, particularly those related to monitoring and accountability. Due to such difficulties it has become clear to the opposition that they will not be able to fulfill their election promises, which placed them in a very difficult position.

The problem does not relate to the very existence of a political opposition as part of the existing system, but to the role that is given to it. According to Tahir Hikmat, member of the Institute of Political Development, there are some players who accuse parties within the Government of wanting the opposition to become just a decorative name in order to complete the picture of the present democracy. On the other hand, there are those who accuse the opposition of attempting to take over the Government without going through the necessary stages.

It seems that the cold relationship between the active political parties and the Government has significantly affected the parliamentary experience. Many international reports have noticed the unstable relationship between the two parties which hinders the democratic development in Bahrain. Therefore, last June, the Ibn Khaldon Centre called for a partnership and co-operation between the Government and the opposition in order to solve the problems facing the country. Based on this, the opposition parties demanded the Government to recognize their role and consider them as a partner in the decision-making process. In addition to this, the opposition feels it should be given the chance to rule.

However, the opposition is still fragmented as it does not have a unified program and ideological differences resulted in temporary alliances. Therefore, although the opposition has stressed that it does not view the Government as an enemy, and that it is ready for discussion and dialogue, but it has failed to convince the Government of this.

The failure of the opposition- which was part of the political process and participated in the Parliament- is also a failure to the reform project. Attempting to weaken or divide the opposition, will eventually weaken the political system itself. Moreover, hindering the work of the parliamentary opposition, in particular, and not allowing it to accomplish anything is a failure for the entire political process. The danger is that if political participation does not achieve its objective in promoting change and reflecting the hopes of the public through the official means -introduced by the reform project- extremists will gain more power and citizens will avoid participating in elections. Moreover, a weak opposition is also a weakness in the political mechanisms, which have been agreed upon, and casts doubts about their ability to achieve their objectives. Weakening the opposition will result in the absence of a second opinion. Therefore, the possibility of correcting the performance of the political system and the Government’s bureaucracy will drastically decrease.

For this reason, the existence of the opposition and a second opinion is a necessity for any democratic regime and for a country striving to become one. This is true even if the presence of the opposition is disturbing and even if it exceeds its limits. The fact that an opposition exists is a sign of political openness and reflects the maturity of any political system. The performance of the opposition also reflects how mature a society is.

Whatever the reasons for the estrangement between the Government and the opposition inside and outside Parliament, we conclude that:

- The development of the political forces in Bahrain strengthens the political system. During the democratization process the opposition must become a partner that is involved in decision- making. Thus, reaching agreements and initiating dialogue to discuss the future of the country is necessary.

- The failure of the opposition - within the democratic mechanism - to achieve some of its objectives and the failure to become a real partner reflects negatively onto the reform project and could cause instability in the country. It should be noted that this failure maybe due to the weakness of the opposition and its performance.

- The Government took the initiative in the reform process, and thus, can once again take the initiative to reach out to increase public participation in decision-making. In addition to this, whenever the number of political active forces increases, this is a bigger guarantee for the stability of the country and promotes the legitimacy of the political system.