Qataris began voting in the country’s first parliamentary elections for two-thirds of the Shura Advisory Council, a vote that sparked a nationwide debate on electoral inclusion and citizenship.
Voters started pouring into polling stations on Saturday, where men and women entered separate sections to elect 30 members of the 45-seat body. The ruling emir will continue to appoint the remaining 15 members of the board.
Polling stations opened at 05:00 GMT and will close at 15:00 GMT, with results expected the same day.
The council will have legislative power and approve general state policies and the budget, but has no control over the executive bodies setting defense, security, economic and investment policy for the small but wealthy producer of gas, which prohibits political parties.
Jamal Elshayyal of Al Jazeera, at a polling station in the capital, Doha, shortly after polling stations opened, said the elections were seen as a major step in modernizing the system of government.
“What we’ve seen so far… is a fairly active voter presence,” he said.
“There is enthusiasm among the nationals who can vote in these elections. The [Shura Council] The body has been mainly consultative over the past decades, but there has been a push in Qatar to share responsibilities, broaden participation, develop the relationship between citizen and state, ”he added.
“This is how the idea or the push to make this body a body where people can run, vote and give more power came. It is akin to the parliaments of other countries in that it can draft laws, question and even dismiss ministers.
A voting “experience”
Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani last month described the vote as a new “experience” and said the council could not in the first year play the “full. role of a parliament “.
All applicants had to be approved by the powerful Home Office based on a multitude of criteria, including age, character and criminal history. They have consistently avoided debate over Qatar’s foreign policy or its status as a monarchy, instead focusing on social issues, including healthcare, education and citizenship rights.
The candidates are predominantly men, with nearly 30 women among the 284 candidates vying for the 30 available board seats.
Campaigns took place on social media, community meetings and roadside billboards.
“It’s a first experience for me (…) to be here and to meet people who talk about these things that we need,” said Khalid Almutawah, a candidate from the district of Markhiya. “At the end of the day, we want to promote our company and we are doing our best to help our people and our government.”
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, also at a polling station in Doha, said voters expressed their joy at being able to participate in such a historic process.
“It is very important for them to make their voices heard,” Jabbari said. “They believe that any kind of future in this country must include women as part of this vision to be able to make decisions and participate in a government that will impact their daily lives.”
“Some of the issues the candidates said they would address if elected relate to women’s rights as well as [amplifying] their voices in different sectors of the country, ”she added.
The election indicates that the ruling Al Thani family in Qatar “takes seriously the idea of symbolically sharing power, but also of effectively sharing power institutionally with other Qatari tribal groups,” said Allen Fromherz, director of the Middle East Studies Center at Georgia State University.
Kuwait was the only Gulf monarchy to confer substantial powers on an elected parliament, although ultimate decision-making rests with the sovereign, as in neighboring states.
Candidates will be required to run in constituencies linked to where their family or tribe was based in the 1930s, using data compiled by British authorities at the time.
Qataris number around 333,000 – just 10% of the population of 2.8 million – but an electoral law passed last July stipulated that only descendants of those who were citizens in 1930 could vote and run, disqualifying them. members of naturalized families since then.
This resulted in small protests in August led by members of the al-Murra tribe, after some members of a main tribe found themselves ineligible to vote.