Bahrain has a bicameral legislature, the National Assembly (Al-Majlis Al-Watani), composed of the Consultative Council and the Chamber of Deputies. The Consultative Council consists of 40 members appointed by the King for four-year renewable terms. The Chamber of Deputies has 40 members popularly elected to four-year terms in 40 separate electoral districts. This bicameral structure replaced the elected unicameral legislature described in the 1973 constitution, which had been suspended since 1975. The Consultative Council was created in 1992 as an advisory body, and the 2002 constitution endowed it with new law-making powers as the upper house of the legislature alongside the revived parliament.
Each house shares equally in the legislative process; when they are convened together, the president of the Consultative Council chairs the joint session. The two chambers meet together if they disagree twice over any bill or if they disagree over economic or financial legislation that the Government deems to be urgent. A bill may then be passed by simple majority of the members present and transmitted to the king for ratification and promulgation.
Sessions, Dissolution, State of Exception
The National Assembly holds annual sessions and can be called to an extraordinary session by royal decree if the King deems it necessary, or upon the request of the majority of the members of the Assembly. In an extraordinary session, the Assembly may not consider matters other than those for which it has been convened except with the consent of the government.
Every meeting held by the National Assembly at a time or place other than that assigned for its meeting is considered invalid, and resolutions passed in such meetings have no effect. For a meeting of the National Assembly to be valid, more than half of its members must be present. Resolutions are passed by an absolute majority of the members present, except in cases where a special majority is required. In the case of a tie, the motion is rejected.
The king has the right to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies and may also extend its term for up to two years. If it is dissolved, sessions of the Consultative Council are also halted. Article 64b of the Constitution requires that new elections for the Chamber of Deputies be held within four months of the dissolution except under compelling circumstances. Under compelling circumstances, the king may recall a dissolved Chamber. It is then constitutionally entitled to a full four-year term from the date of restoration.
The king appoints the president of the Consultative Council, which in turn elects two vice presidents. The current President of the Consultative Council is Dr. Faisal Al-Mousawi. The Chamber of Deputies elects its president and two vice presidents for the same duration as the chamber’s term of office. The current President of the Chamber of Deputies is His Excellency Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al-Dhahrani. Members of both houses enjoy full immunity when the Assembly is in session; a member can be subjected to penal action only with the consent of the chamber of which he is a member. When the Assembly is not in session, authorization to question or prosecute any member is obtained from the president of the relevant chamber.
Committee Structures and Membership
The Assembly forms the committees necessary for its functions within the first week of its annual session. These committees may discharge their duties during the recess of the Assembly with a view to submitting their recommendations when the Assembly convenes. The Assembly also sets up a special committee among its annual standing committees to deal with petitions and complaints submitted to the Assembly by citizens. This committee seeks explanation from the competent authorities and informs the person concerned of the result.
Legislative Drafting Processes
The king or the prime minister, whom the king appoints, presents bills to the Chamber of Deputies, which in turn refers them to the Consultative Council. Each house may amend or reject proposed legislation, but Article 18 of the Constitution requires that “priority of debate shall always be given to bills and proposals put forward by the government.” Any member of either chamber may propose a law, and fifteen members of either chamber may propose a constitutional amendment. If the chamber accepts the proposal, however, it is then referred to the government, which formulates it as a draft amendment or law for future deliberation.
The king has the right to initiate, ratify, and promulgate laws. A bill is considered ratified if a period of six months from the date of its submission by the Consultative Council and Chamber of Deputies has expired without the king returning it for re-consideration. If the King returns the bill he must state whether it is to be reconsidered in the present or next session. If the Consultative Council and Chamber of Deputies re-confirm the bill by a two-thirds majority vote of their members, the King shall ratify and promulgate the bill within one month from the date of the re-confirmation.
Bahrain is a member of the Arab-Inter Parliamentary Union (AIPU).