Qatar to hold its first elections

Voters will elect 30 members of 45-seat Shura council

Saeed al-Burshaid (L), a candidate for Qatar's inaugural Shura Council election, holds a campaign rally in al-Wakrah on September 19. AFP
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Qatar is holding its first elections on Saturday to choose members of its top advisory panel, known as the Shura Council.

Following an announcement by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on August 22, the October 2 election is for 30 members of the 45-seat Shura Council, a body previously appointed entirely by the Emir, which serves as an advisory chamber. Sheikh Tamim will appoint the remaining 15 members.

Candidate registration opened in August, when the Supervisory Committee for the Shura Council elections began receiving applications.

The final list of 284 candidates was released on September 15, including 28 women, from a total of 30 electoral districts.

Last week, the Shura Council Elections Supervisory Committee - the formation of which Sheikh Tamim ordered in November last year - met to clarify the mechanisms of the electoral process.

Mr Abdelrahman Al Malki, a member of the supervisory committee, reviewed regulations that should be followed on election day, such as insisting on voters’ commitment to wearing a mask and adhering to social distancing regulations and health procedures.

What is Qatar’s Shura Council?

On May 20, the cabinet approved a draft law on elections to the Shura Council, where it will take on the powers of a legislative body following the elections.

The Shura Council will have the power to dismiss ministers, propose laws, and approve or reject the country’s national budget. But ultimately Sheikh Tamim has the power of veto.

“What differentiates the elected council from its previously appointed predecessor is that its members can interpellate and call a vote of no-confidence in ministers to dismiss them,” Dr Hend Al Mufta, one of the first female Qataris appoint by Sheikh Tamim, said.

The Shura Council also represents Qatar in numerous parliamentary associations and international organisations, such as the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Arab Parliament and the Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States.

In accordance with the Emiri Decree No. 37 of 2021, the country was divided into 30 electoral districts, each will elect one representative.

While Qatar’s Shura Council was established in 1972, plans to hold the elections were ratified more than 15 years ago.

Over the years, the council has been given the task of assisting the Emir and Council of Ministers in the performance of their duties.

The Shura Council originally had 20 appointed members, a composition which has been subsequently amended on several occasions.

By 1975 the Shura Council grew, with 10 more appointed members, increasing the number of representatives to 30. Four women were first appointed in 2017 to the council by Emir Tamim.

The country’s leadership had previously committed to holding elections in 2007 and 2010, and repeated its pledge for 2013. None of the elections took place for various reasons. The Shura Council term was then extended until 2016 and then until 2019.

The Council typically runs for four calendar years commencing from the date of the first meeting.

A Shura Council membership can end in the event of death, total disability, expiration of membership term, resignation, termination of membership, or dissolution of the Shura Council.

Who can run for elections?

Under the new draft law, candidates must be able to run based on the constitution and legal rules of constitutional nature.

Candidates must be originally Qatari and aged 30 and above by the closing date of the nomination. They must also be fluent in reading and writing in Arabic.

If the first requirements are met, nominees then register in their electoral district and must then continue to maintain good reputation and conduct while keeping their criminal record clean.

Candidates working at ministries or other government entities whose names are included in the final lists of candidates are given unpaid leave throughout the elections if they do not have a sufficient leave balance.

The maximum expenditure of each candidate during their electoral campaign must not exceed two million Qatari riyals.

Candidates have the freedom to withdraw their nomination seven days ahead of the election day by submitting a form to the committee.

Qataris number about 333,000, but only descendants of those who were citizens in 1930 will be eligible to vote and stand, disqualifying members of families naturalised since then.

Some members of the sizable Al-Murrah tribe are among those who face being excluded from the electoral process, sparking a fierce debate online.

Experts have suggested that representatives of those groups excluded could be among those directly appointed by the emir.

Election campaigning began following the announcement of the final list of candidates and must end 24 hours prior to the start of the voting process on October 1.

The voting process will begin on Saturday, where polling stations will open their doors at 8am and will continue working until 6pm. The names of elected members of the Shura Council will be announced in the evening.

Updated: September 30, 2021, 9:52 AM