Qataris began voting in the emirate’s first legislative election on Saturday in a symbolic gesture for democracy, which analysts say will not take power away from the ruling family.
The vote is for the 30 members of the 45-strong Shura Council, a body with limited powers that had previously been appointed by the Emir as an advisory chamber.
Voting will open at 0500 GMT and close at 1500 GMT with expected results on the same day.
At a polling station at Jawan bin Jassim School in the capital Doha’s Onaiza district, Qatari citizens wearing white cloaks sign to vote at a registration desk.
After queuing for a while, they put their ballots in a semi-transparent plastic box with the symbol of Dhow Boat, crossed swords and a Qatar palm tree.
Observers say the decision to hold the election is required under the 2004 constitution, but has been repeatedly delayed in the “national interest”, as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.
“It’s a way of showing that they are moving in the right direction, that they want to achieve more political participation before the World Cup,” said Luciano Zacara, assistant professor in Gulf politics at Qatar University.
Shura would be allowed to propose legislation, approve budgets and recall ministers. But the wealthy, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, would use the veto.
Voter Ali said, “It is a historic day to participate, elect and vote in the first elected Shura Council, and I am very pleased … I hope that the next council will be in sync with the development of Qatar and the world.” Will maintain.” Abdullah al-Khulayfi, 44, told AFP.
The streets of Qatar’s towns are speckled with billboards adorned with candidates wearing the national costume.
Beyond single-candidate town hall meetings, posters and TV spots, the country’s introduction to democracy has been limited, with no change in government possible and political parties outlawed.
Instead of focusing on social issues including health care, education and citizenship rights, candidates have similarly avoided debates about Qatar’s foreign policy or status as a monarchy.
‘Give us a voice’
All the candidates had to be approved by the powerful Interior Ministry against a number of criteria including age, character and criminal history.
Candidates are also required to register official campaign programs with the ministry in advance, along with the names of all speakers as the authorities seek to crack down on possible sectarianism or tribalism.
The candidates are mostly male, out of 284 candidates for the 30 available council seats, only 28 are female. Amir will be appointed on the remaining 15 seats.
Sabika Yousef, a woman who voted on Saturday, said she was not concerned about the imbalance.
“The most important thing for me in this process is to select a candidate who is capable of raising our voices,” he said.
Most of Qatar’s 2.5 million residents are foreigners, who are ineligible to vote.
Candidates have to stand in electoral divisions associated with their family or tribe in the 1930s, using data compiled by the then British officials.
Diplomatic sources suggest that families and tribes have already held internal polls to determine who will be elected for their constituencies.
Courtney Freer, a fellow at Emory College, said, “When you don’t have political parties … people sometimes vote for people they know, or for family members or tribe members.”
Qataris number about 333,000, but the only descendants of those who were citizens in 1930 are eligible to vote and stand, since then have been disqualified members of families.
Some members of the al-Murah tribe are among those left out of the electoral process, sparking heated debate online.