Qataris yesterday began voting in the Gulf state’s first legislative elections for two-thirds of the advisory Shura Council in a vote that has stirred domestic debate about electoral inclusion and citizenship.
Voters began trickling into polling stations, where men and women entered separate sections, to elect 30 members of the 45-seat body. The ruling emir would continue to appoint the remaining 15 members.
“With the chance to vote, I feel this is a new chapter,” said Munira, a children’s book author who asked to be identified by only one name. “I’m really happy of the number of women standing as candidates.”
The Council would have legislative authority, and approve general state policies and the budget, but would have no control over executive bodies setting defense, security, economic and investment policies for the small, but wealthy gas producer, which bans political parties.
Eighteen women are among the 183 candidates hoping to be elected at stations across 30 districts in the country, which has for several years held municipal polls.
Campaigning has taken place on social media, community meetings and roadside billboards.
“This is a first-time experience for me ... to be here and meet people talking about these things that we need,” said Khalid Almutawah, a candidate in the Markhiya District. “In the end we want to promote our society, and we try our best to help our people and our government.”
The election indicates that Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family is “taking seriously the idea of symbolically sharing power, but also effectively sharing power institutionally with other Qatari tribal groups,” Georgia State University’s Middle East Studies Center director Allen Fromherz said.
The election, approved in a 2003 constitutional referendum, comes ahead of Doha hosting the soccer World Cup next year.
However, critics have said that voting eligibility is too narrow.
Qatari Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani last month described the vote as a new “experiment,” saying that the council cannot be expected from the first year to have the “full role of any parliament.”
Kuwait has been the only Gulf monarchy to give substantial powers to an elected parliament, although ultimate decisionmaking rests with the country’s emir, as in neighboring states.
The huge number of foreign workers in Qatar, the world’s top liquefied natural gas producer, means that nationals make up only 10 percent of the population of 2.8 million.
However, even then not all Qataris are eligible to vote.
The polls have stirred tribal sensitivities after some members of a main tribe found themselves ineligible to vote under a law restricting voting to Qataris whose family was present in the country before 1930.
Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said that there is a “clear process” for the electoral law to be reviewed by the next Shura Council.
Human Rights Watch has said that thousands of Qataris are excluded.
The organization said that Qatar arrested about 15 demonstrators at a protest led by Al Murra tribe members in August, as well as critics of the voting law.
A Qatari source with knowledge of the matter on Friday said that two critics remained in custody “for inciting violence and hate speech.”
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