Qatar’s very first vote – World – Al-Ahram Weekly
Qatari women vote (Photo: AFP)
Eligible Qataris voted on Saturday to choose two-thirds of the Shura Council in the first such election in the small oil-rich Gulf country. Since 1972, the Emir of Qatar has appointed all the members of the council (20 at the beginning, now 45).
Voters elected 30 members out of 233 candidates who ran in 30 constituencies. The details of the electoral law establishing the districts kept the division on tribal lines as has always been the case with municipal polls. Voting went smoothly, with men and women voting in separate spaces.
None of the 26 women candidates served on the Shura Council. But the emir, who appoints the remaining 15 members of the council, is expected to appoint women as well as members of tribes barred from running by electoral law.
“It would be a little strange to have an all-male board as the country tries to reflect an image of modernization ahead of hosting the 2022 World Cup,” said one Gulf commentator. Weekly Al Ahram.
Qatari officials praised the elections, which saw a turnout of over 63%. Still, they admitted that it is too early to say whether the council will take on all the functions of a real parliament. Last month, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohamed Bin Abdul-Rahman Al Thani called the elections a new “experience” and said the council could not play “the full role of ‘a parliament’ from the first year.
The election of the members of the Shura Council was enshrined in the 2003 Constitution, but was repeatedly postponed for various reasons. In August, the current Emir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani approved the electoral law for a fixed date this month.
Some Qataris excluded from running or voting have criticized the law and international human rights bodies have called for some of its provisions to be amended. Many members of the Al-Murrah tribe were denied the right to run even though some were allowed to vote. Newswires reported that many Qataris in Al-Murrah have already voted. A candidate from the part of the tribe recognized as a full citizen, former attorney general Ali Bin Fetais Al-Marri, won a seat on the council.
Like other Gulf governments, notably Kuwait (where there is a large âBedoonâ community), the government defends its position on granting full citizenship. The argument is that the number of expatriates in the Gulf far exceeds that of indigenous citizens. If citizenship laws were relaxed, the original citizens would become a minority. Although there are no precise official details on the census, the number of original citizens in many Gulf countries is relatively small.
Editor-in-chief of Gulf Observers Initiative at the London-based Gulf House for Studies and Publishing, Adel Marzouk wrote on Carnegie’s website describing Qatar’s parliamentary elections as “a debate for citizenship rights against tribal domination.” He noted: âThe Qatari population is estimated at 260,000 citizens (around 11% of the total population of 2.5 million). Although official authorities do not provide a definitive census of Qataris eligible to vote in elections, article 80 of the Constitution stipulates that the candidate for the Shoura Council must be âof Qatari originâ and not a naturalized citizen. “
The composition of the population is similar in the rest of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), where political parties are banned and electoral laws point in the same direction. Where they exist, the councils have limited powers, except in Kuwait which gives substantial powers to an elected parliament, although the final decision-making remains with its leader. According to the aforementioned Gulf source, it is too early for political parties: âLook at what happened in countries with political parties. The Muslim Brotherhood has been riding the wave of elections although they are not a very large part of these societies. You cannot allow that to happen here â.
In fact, some Western analysts admit that even if you had political parties in the Gulf countries, politics would still be based on tribal loyalties. In his Carnegie article, Adel Marzouk argues that this may be the best Qatar can do so far:
“This electoral formula and constituency distribution places tribal loyalty on the nation state and goes directly against the state’s official position which warns voters against allowing tribal affiliation. interfere with an authentic performance. The flaw in this formula is that it allows larger tribes to have more votes, and furthermore forces Qataris to vote in areas where they do not even live. Nevertheless, the state, after suffering the bitter consequences of tribal conflicts in the 2019 municipal elections, insists that this system will protect the country from similar tensions.