Qataris out in numbers for historic council poll

Many Qataris now hope for legislative elections as men and women stand for municipal seats.

A Qatari casts his vote during the municipal elections at a polling station in Doha yesterday.
Powered by automated translation

DOHA // Qataris voted yesterday in elections for the only municipal council in the nation, which is yet to stage legislative elections promised after a constitution was created in 2005.

Voting began at 8am and continued throughout the day as men and women, segregated, quietly cast their ballots at polling stations set up at 29 constituencies across the tiny Gulf emirate.

Voting was to end at 5pm with results expected to be announced late last night.

"It's an unprecedented experience. I'm voting for the first time," Abdullah Radwani, 47, a government employee said as he left a polling station in Doha.

Qataris hope "municipal elections would lead to legislative elections," Mr Radwani said.

A total of 101 candidates, including four women, are vying 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.

Posters of candidates have been on display across Doha, with many carrying promises related to services while ignoring politics. But there was no poster of any of the female candidates.

The contenders also used websites such as Facebook to post their manifestos.

A voter, who identified herself only as Maitha, said: "It's a big day and we are proving that women and men are working together to serve the country."

Ibrahim al Bakir, an engineer in his 50s, demanded extending the powers of the council so it could "make decisions on the country's projects and all of its affairs".

Mr Bakir said: "We came here to prove that this [voting] is our right and we are practising it, but we hope for more. 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 fulfil the needs for achieving democracy."

Qatar has a population of about 1.7 million, but nationals are estimated at a little more than 200,000 people. Foreigners, lured by work opportunities created by the fast economic growth of the energy-rich nation, represent the majority.

In June 2005, Qatar signed into effect a constitution for the first time since independence from Britain in 1971 with the aim of introducing democratic reforms.

The constitution, which was passed in a 2003 referendum, provides for legislative power to be vested in a consultative council, or parliament, made up of 45 members, two thirds of whom would be elected. The rest are to be appointed by the emir.

Currently, the Shura Council is named by the emir and, despite the changes, political parties remain banned.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jaber Al Thani said in February that Doha was working on organising 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. Qatar has been spared a wave of street protests that brought down autocratic regimes in several other Arab nations.

Qataris however, are still waiting. "There are promises … We hope they will be held in the wake of current events and aspirations of people" in the region, said Mr Bakir.

The Al Thani family has ruled Qatar since the mid-1800s.