The imprisoned human rights activist Abdel Hadi al-Khawaja has said that Bahrain’s upcoming elections do not include any provisions for the political rights of citizens, as set out by Article 21 of the International Declaration of Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Citizens are not participating in any real or effective way in organising public affairs, and the will of the people is not a source for the government’s authority. Firstly, this is because citizens do not have either direct or indirect election rights to choose the country’s president. Secondly, it is because citizens do not enjoy equal rights to employment and public jobs. Rather, these privileges are apportioned according to family and ethnic ties, and to political allegiance to the powers that be. Thirdly, the elected representatives will lack legislative power and to bring those with real decision-making powers to account. Fourthly, members of councils across the country will be subject to the will of the executive power, as exercised by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
Khawaja added that the Bahraini elections lack transparency and equality. This is due firstly to manipulation of the residential composition of Bahrain through politically-motivated naturalization. Additionally, there is manipulation of the distribution of constituency boundaries on the basis of sectarian affiliation and political leaning. The authorities dominate the voting and the orientation of large swathes of the naturalized electorate, who have never previously lived in Bahrain, as well as those of employees of the security services and military personnel. Moreover, the voting process and the rules regulating it are controlled and subject to censorship. Finally, the authorities have complete control over media in the country.
Khawaja said that it is impossible to guarantee the political rights of citizens without first securing their civil rights and general freedoms, based on a free and independent judiciary. These rights and freedoms include: freedom of political parties and organisations; freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of assembly and peaceful protest. It is also imperative that individuals be protected from rights violations such as: arbitrary detention; torture; irregular trials. The elections can have no legitimacy against the current backdrop of oppression and restricted freedoms.
Khawaja pointed out that, since the escalation of popular protests in February 2011, the authorities have proceeded to benefit from their hegemony over the Shura Council, parliamentary representatives and employed them within the judiciary, as well as the security and media apparatus. Using these tactics, the authorities strike a balance between escalating the security measures to restrict freedoms and pretending that there is real political dialogue and forthcoming reforms in the national interest. After all this, the authorities suddenly announced that they were organizing elections, without the agreement of the opposition and in contravention of their human rights commitments. This only increases feelings of frustration and popular anger, and could lead to an unprecedented explosion.
Based on all of this, Khawaja believes that boycotting is an important method of protest. However, it will not be enough to force the authorities to respond to demands for reform and to comply with its obligations. A boycott alone is not enough to quell the rage swelling in people’s hearts. Society groups, activists and individuals must therefore unite their efforts in order to escalate their peaceful activists in an effective and organized way. Through this, they will gain greater solidarity and international support, which will help them in achieving their just goals, foremost among them that power be put in the people’s hands in a real way and that human rights be strengthened in all fields. All this will not be possible without concerted efforts and courage – we must be prepared to sacrifice. Demands are not won through wishing – it takes struggle and strife.