Qatari candidates register on August 22, 2021 in Doha to run for the first Shura Council elections – Copyright AFP / File –
Qataris are preparing for the inaugural parliamentary elections on Saturday, which are a symbolic democratic step for the autocratic Gulf region, but which should not alter the balance of power of the monarchy.
The October 2 election involves 30 members of the 45-member Shura Council, a body with limited powers that was previously appointed by the emir as an advisory chamber.
While this is a rare nod to democracy in the Gulf, which is mostly ruled by absolute monarchies and where only Kuwait has a fully elected parliament, observers say it is not a turning point for Qatar.
Instead, they point out that comes with it a close scrutiny of the country set to host next year’s World Cup.
Qatar had announced that it would hold Shura Council elections in 2007, but the vote was postponed.
“It is important to understand that the ambition is not to create a constitutional monarchy but to increase participation” in society, said Andreas Krieg, managing director of risk consultancy MENA Analytica. “Applying measures of democracy is wrong. “
The Shura will be authorized to propose laws, approve the budget and dismiss ministers. But the emir, all-powerful in the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, will exercise a right of veto.
The streets of Qatar’s cities were dotted with billboards adorned with beaming candidates sporting the national white thobe.
Candidates have appeared on public television to solicit their support, with each candidate depicted on identical background alongside slides spelling out their policies – a far cry from the costly political ads typical elsewhere.
And unlike established democracies, there was no adversarial debate between candidates.
Beyond town halls, posters and television spots of a single candidate, the introduction of democracy into the country has been limited, no change of government is possible, and political parties are banned.
– Approved candidates –
All applicants had to be approved by the powerful Home Office based on a multitude of criteria, including age, character and criminal history.
At glitzy campaign events, contestants attempted to woo sometimes modest crowds with hot drink service, buffets, and glossy campaign literature.
The candidates are predominantly men, with only 28 women among the 284 candidates for the 30 available board seats. The remaining 15 seats will be nominated by the Emir.
Most of Qatar’s 2.5 million inhabitants are foreigners who do not have the right to vote.
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.
Diplomatic sources suggest that families and tribes have already held internal ballots to determine who will be elected for their constituencies.
Qataris number around 333,000, but only descendants of those who were citizens in 1930 will be eligible to vote and run, disqualifying members of families naturalized since then.
Some members of the prominent Al-Murrah tribe are among those at risk of being excluded from the electoral process, sparking heated debate online.
– “Create a fracture” –
Experts have suggested that representatives of these excluded groups could be among those directly appointed by the Emir.
“I saw it create a rift in our society, which we (the young Qataris) hoped no longer existed,” said one voter, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The electoral law prohibits “stirring up tribal or sectarian conflicts between citizens in any way” or receiving campaign funds from abroad.
Qatar’s electoral process sparked a torrent of fake news on social media with the Arabic hashtag #BoycottQatarElections on Twitter, although initially posted by one account.
Emirate officials fear the polls could be exploited by neighbors Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
City councils are the only elected public chambers in Saudi Arabia.
In the United Arab Emirates, half of the seats on a government advisory body were elected in a ballot in 2015, when about a quarter of citizens were eligible to vote.
Qatar held its first municipal elections in 1999.
Ahead of Saturday’s vote, volunteers gathered to receive step-by-step instructions on how the electoral process would work “from the moment the voter arrives” until the vote until the departure, the daily reported. Qatar Tribune.