Qataris voted Tuesday in the fourth municipal elections in their small Gulf State, and many expressed hope that perhaps the country’s ruler might soon create an elected legislature. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2012.
Agence-France Presse reported that adult franchise had been extended to both men and women. But the sexes cast ballots in segregated booths.
“It’s an unprecedented experience. I’m voting for the first time,” Abdullah Radwani, a 47-year-old government employee told AFP as he left a polling station in the capital city of Doha.
Qatar gained its independence in 1971. Politics took the form of an absolute monarchy, with the emir not only being the head of state but also the head of the government.
A total of 101 candidates, including four women, are contesting for 29 council seats which represent the entire country in the election where 32,000 people are eligible to cast ballots. Only one woman served on the outgoing council, according to AFP.
The Al-Thani family has dominated Qatar—which nestles on a peninsula bordering Saudi Arabia—since the mid-1800s, and retains absolute control over all aspects of government and daily life.
In 1995, the Deputy Ruler, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa, deposed his father Emir Khalifa in a bloodless coup, but both reconciled a year later.
Sheikh Hamad increased freedom of the press, and generously funded the Doha-based Al Jazeera television channel, which was founded in late 1996).
A high turnout of Qataris voted in 2003 referendum with a positive 96.6 percent accepting an amended constitution that gave legislative power to be vested in a Consultative Council, or parliament, made up of 45 members, two thirds of whom would be elected. The emir appoints the rest.
Nevertheless, political parties remain banned.
Ibrahim al-Bakir, an engineer in his 50s, urged extending the powers of the council so it could “make decisions on the country’s projects and all of its affairs.”
“We came here to prove that this (voting) is our right and we are practicing it, but we hope for more,” said Mr. Bakir. “We hope this will be a step towards an elected Shura (Consultative) Council.”
“We will continue to demand an elected Consultative Council that would represent the people’s will. The Consultative Council must also have the powers to fulfill the needs for achieving democracy,” he said.
In February 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jaber al-Thani said that Doha was working on organizing legislative polls “in the near future,” adding the election had been delayed because of “preparing special laws.”
“We have taken our time because this is our first experience in Qatar” with parliamentary election, he said.
(Dina Al-Shibeeb of Al Arabiya can be reached at: email@example.com)