Qataris have begun voting for two-thirds of the Shura advisory council in the country’s first parliamentary elections, in a vote that has fueled domestic debate on electoral inclusion and citizenship.
Voters began trickling 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 council.
The polls opened at 05:00 GMT and closed at 15:00 GMT, with results expected the same day.
The council will enjoy legislative power and approve general state policies and budget, but it will not control the executive bodies that determine defense, security, economic and investment policies for the small but wealthy gas producer, which bans political parties.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, who reported from a polling station in the capital Doha shortly after the polls opened, said the elections were seen as an important step in the modernization of the governing system.
“What we’ve seen so far…is a pretty active voter presence,” he said.
“There is excitement among the nationals who are allowed to vote in these elections. The [Shura Council] The body has been mainly an advisory body in recent decades, but there has been a push within Qatar to share responsibility, broaden participation and develop the relationship between the citizen and the state,” he added.
“Thus came the idea or the push to make this body a body that people can stand in, vote in, and give more powers. This is comparable to the parliaments of other countries in that it can legislate, question and even fire ministers.”
A voting ‘experiment’
Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani described the vote last month as another “experiment” and said the council cannot be expected to assume the “full role of any Parliament will have.”
All candidates had to be approved by the powerful Ministry of the Interior based on a myriad of criteria, including age, character and criminal history. They have consistently avoided debate over Qatar’s foreign policy or status as a monarchy, focusing instead on social issues, including health care, education and citizenship rights.
The candidates are mostly men, with nearly 30 women among the 284 candidates running for the 30 available council seats.
There has been campaigning on social media, community gatherings and roadside billboards.
“This is a first experience for me… to be here and meet people who talk about the things we need,” said Khalid Almutawah, a candidate in the Markhiya district. “Ultimately, we want to promote our society and do our best to help our people and our government.”
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari said the female voters and candidates she spoke to have expressed their happiness to participate in such a historic process.
“It’s very important for them to make their voices heard,” Jabbari said. “They believe that any future in this country should include women as part of that vision to be able to make decisions and participate in government that will impact their everyday lives.”
“Some of the issues the candidates have said they will address if elected relate to both women’s rights and… [amplifying] their voice within different sectors in the country,” she added.
The election indicates that Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family “is serious about the idea of sharing power symbolically, but also effectively sharing power institutionally with other Qatari tribal groups,” said Allen Fromherz, director of the Middle East Studies Center at the United Nations. Georgia State University.
Kuwait is the only monarchy in the Gulf to have given substantial powers to an elected parliament, although ultimate decision-making rests with the ruler, as in neighboring states.
Candidates will have to sit in electoral divisions related to where their family or tribe was based in the 1930s, using data collected by the then British authorities.
Qataris number about 333,000 — just 10 percent of the population of 2.8 million — but an electoral law passed last July stated that only descendants of those who were citizens in 1930 are eligible to vote and stand for election, allowing members of families who have since naturalized. are disqualified.
This resulted in small demonstrations led by members of the al-Murra tribe in August after some members of a main tribe became ineligible to vote.