The reforms are part of recommendations that emerged last year from talks between various political and civil groups on easing tensions in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, which has faced more than 11 months of protests by the island’s Shia majority.
More than 35 people have died in the unrest, which began as an Arab Spring-inspired uprising for greater rights but has shifted into a challenge against the authority of the 200-year-old ruling Sunni dynasty.
In a nationally televised address, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said he would soon issue royal decrees to amend the constitution and grant a greater role to the 40-seat lower house of parliament.
The measures include allowing MPs to approve governments proposed by the ruling dynasty and giving greater authority to question and remove cabinet officials. Parliament would also play a larger role in setting the state budget and proposing laws, he said.
But the changes are unlikely to appease Shia opposition groups. Shiites account for about 70 per cent of Bahrain’s 525,000 citizens, but complain they are effectively excluded from key political and security roles. They have called for a government that reflects election results – which would bring Shiites into key cabinet posts – rather than ministers hand-picked by the monarchy.
Abdul Jalil Khalil, a former parliament member with the main Shia political group, Al Wefaq, dismissed the reforms as “out of touch with reality,” after nearly a year of non-stop unrest and protests.