Council officials push for expat voting rights
Manama : Calls have gone out from senior municipal council officials to allow expatriates who are residing in Bahrain and own properties or businesses in the Kingdom to take part in the quadrennial municipal elections, similar to the citizens of GCC countries. The participation of foreign investors in municipal elections has been raised multiple times in recent years, confirms Muharraq Municipal Council Chairman Mohammed Al Sinan.
Mr Al Sinan told Tribune that the matter has been submitted as a proposal in the Council of Representatives on more than one occasion and was reviewed by the municipal councils in each governorate.
According to him, the proposal stipulates amending the existing Decree by-Law 3 of 2002 on the Exercise of Political Rights, allowing GCC Nationals to play a part in the municipal elections if they meet the criteria. The conditions for GCC citizens to participate in the elections include that they should be above the age of 21 years, own a permanent residence, properties or lands in the constituency. The edict prohibits those convicted in criminal and dishonesty cases or committed any electoral crime from participating in the elections.
“The proposal never saw the light and has been shelved for years now. We hope that the Kingdom’s lawmakers would look into it once again, considering its importance. The majority of the population on the island is expats. A considerable number of them are entrepreneurs, investors or business owners.
Municipal councils serve all, including citizens and residents. They equally benefit from the councils’ services. The right to elect should be granted to them,” Al Sinan stated. Nonetheless, the council chairman affirmed that “despite the absence of a legislation permitting expats to vote in the municipal elections, the doors of municipal councils are always open to receive their requests, inquiries, suggestions and complaints”.
He added, “Each council member should serve all those living or owning properties in the constituencies they represent. In Muharraq Municipal Council we continuously receive expats. We help them service-oriented matters that are related to residences or commercial establishments, such as shops or warehouses. We frequently solve their issues with the Electricity and Water Authority or the Ministry of Works, Municipalities Affairs and Urban Planning.”
Part of Social Fabric Tribune also spoke to Northern Area Municipal Council Chairman Mohammed Buhumood, who shared a similar view and underlined that “expats are an essential part of the social fabric of Bahrain”. Commenting further, Buhumood said, “They should be involved in the voting process as they have mass contributions in all fields and a direct impact on all services. The involvement of non-citizen communities, according to requirements, is a common practice in many countries.”
However, Buhumood informed that expatriates in the Northern Governorate are less interactive with the area’s municipal council than citizens. He attributed it to the nature of programmes introduced by the council, language barriers or the awareness of such communities about the council’s services.
At the same time, Buhumood said there are no official figures available showing the amount of interaction from expat communities with the council. According to the latest statistics released by the Central Informatics Organisation, the number of expatriates living in Bahrain was 759, 000 by the end of 2016, while 665, 000 were Bahrainis. The figures also showed that the expats population steadily grew by more than 100, 000 between 2010 and 2016.