Two thousand legislators from around the world, including 50 speakers, are set to converge on Bahrain next March when the country hosts the 146th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
The gathering, taking place in Bahrain for the first time ever, is set to be held at the new Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Centre in Sakhir, currently under construction.
Details on the event were outlined yesterday at a Press conference hosted by National Assembly and Parliament Speaker Fouzia Zainal and Shura Council Chairman Ali Saleh Al Saleh at the National Assembly Complex.
“To host the IPU’s 146th Assembly we had to tick all of the right boxes with the body, without a single imperfection, and our selection silences all those doubters,” said Mr Al Saleh.
“We have been unfairly accused of human rights breaches and suggestions that we do not represent ‘proper democracy’. Our doors have been open and will continue to be so.
“Prior to our selection we were visited by international parliamentarians who confirmed, with their own eyes, where we stand.
“Are we satisfied with the current situation? Do we seek to develop? Life evolves and we will continue to be progressive with our legislative practices. We have been over a period of 20 years which indicates progress.”
Mr Al Saleh, chairman since 2006 of the upper house of the National Assembly, the main legislative body of Bahrain, announced that he was planning to step down from the position.
“New blood, young faces and fresh ideas need to take charge of the country’s future and bring fresh issues to the table,” he said.
“Those same gentlemen and women will have the task of prioritising international topics of interest when the Assembly is held here.
“Nothing is easy. There are always new challenges and circumstances needing to be addressed.”
Both the Shura Council and Parliament have their four-year tenure conclude in May. Parliament and municipal elections are set to be held later this year.
“Bringing the IPU Assembly here puts Bahrain on the map and gives us a bigger voice,” said Mr Al Saleh. “Attracting tourism or investments are not our main goal – if it comes then that’s secondary to the ever-lasting impression this small country wants to showcase to the world.
“We have a 200-year-old Hindu Temple and churches established here for the past 150 years, alongside other religions, and the unique fabric of coexistence is the model we want the world to see and be fascinated with.”
Ms Zainal said the Cabinet has officially backed hosting the event next year and was a partner in the preparations which, she declared, had already started.
“Hosting the IPU is a massive game-changer for Bahrain and puts us on the forefront of the democratic scene,” she said.
“We managed to successfully stage the FIFA Congress a few years ago and have what it takes to take things to the next level.
“Parliamentary delegations will be responsible for the cost of travelling and accommodation. As a host we will have to spend too but our spending will be nothing compared to the reward of having 2,000 parliamentarians from 197 countries coming here.”
Ms Zainal said it took two years of negotiations to win over the organisers. “Every time I participated abroad in parliamentary meetings and gatherings, I always thought to myself we could do things better in Bahrain. We can turn that dream into reality,” she added.
“We have drafted initial topics like terrorism, climate change and developing public life and our working teams have been assigned to present comprehensive studies in support of the agenda.
“But again fresh ideas are coming our way, the world is changing and we will need to address future matters of interest.”
The IPU Assembly will be held over five days.
Parliamentary executive committee director Ghazi Abdulmohsin also gave a presentation on plans to host the event during the Press conference and Shura Council first vice-chairman Jamal Fakhro and Shura member Ali Al Aradi also discussed developments.