Eighteen Years On, Qatar to Fulfill Promise of Advisory Council Elections

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Qatar's ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, gives a speech to the Shura Council in Doha, Qatar, November 3, 2020.
Qatar's ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, gives a speech to the Shura Council in Doha, Qatar, November 3, 2020. Credit: Qatar News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

Qatar will hold an election for its Shura Council in October 2021, its ruling emir said on Tuesday, granting citizens voting rights for the advisory body set out nearly two decades ago.

The Gulf Arab state has until now postponed plans for a partially elected Shura Council that were outlined in the constitution ratified in 2003. Instead members of the body, the top advisory body for the government, have been appointed by the emir.

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"This is an important step towards strengthening Qatari advisory traditions and developing the legislative process with wider citizen participation," Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said, addressing the opening of the Shura Council.

Until now, Qataris have been able to vote only in municipal elections. Political parties are banned.

Qatari citizens will, from next year, elect two-thirds, or 30 members, of the 45-seat Shura Council. The emir will appoint 15 members, rather than the entire council as he does today.

It was not immediately clear what eligibility requirements, such as a minimum age, Qatari citizens would have to meet to be able to vote.

"This is very significant as it changes the status-quo politically in Qatar considerably," Qatari political sociologist Majed al-Ansari told Reuters.

However, he said it is was unlikely to lead to a push for political rights or major changes in the political environment.

"Qatar is a very small, prosperous country, a country that is not facing popular dissent or public dissent ... Any citizen can meet His Highness (the emir) fairly easily.

"Qataris account for around 10 percent of the roughly 2.7 million people living in the gas-rich state, most of whom are foreign workers.

Gulf Arab states Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates also have advisory councils. In the UAE, only those approved by the country's rulers can participate in voting for candidates for the council.

Kuwait and Bahrain both have elected parliaments, which have some influence, though as with all Gulf Arab states, ultimate decision-making rests with the rulers. 

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