Oman to Get Its First Crown Prince in Constitutional Overhaul

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Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said gives a speech after being sworn in before the royal family council in Muscat, Oman, January 11, 2020.
Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said gives a speech after being sworn in before the royal family council in Muscat, Oman, January 11, 2020.Credit: Sultan Al Hasani/Reuters

Oman's sultan announced on Monday a constitutional shakeup that includes the appointment of a crown prince for the first time and new rules on how parliament will work, state media said.

A new basic law issued by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said also emphasizes the role of the Gulf Arab state in guaranteeing more rights and freedoms for citizens – including equality between men and women, state news agency ONA said.

Sultan Haitham came to power a year ago after the death of his predecessor Sultan Qaboos, who transformed an impoverished backwater riven by internal conflicts into a state that plays a small but important role in international diplomacy.

Qaboos, who was childless, ruled Oman for 49 years without a publicly designated heir, naming his preferred successor in a sealed envelope to be opened after his death should the royal family disagree on the succession line. The family went with his choice.

The secrecy about the succession to Qaboos resulted in rumors and raised concerns for the country's stability in the last years of his rule. Haitham's plan to designate a crown prince could add predictability to Omani politics.

The new basic law sets out mechanisms for the appointment of a crown prince and his duties. The report did not say who would become the new crown prince or provide other details.

It also sets the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary as the basis for governance in the sultanate, a small oil producer and a regional U.S. ally.

A separate decree created a new law for the parliament – the bicameral Council of Oman. The published text says changes to conditions of membership and the council's terms of reference have been made, but no further details were given.

Sultan Haitham has shaken up the government and state entities and moved to enact long-awaited fiscal reform since taking power, appointing finance and foreign affairs ministers and a central bank chairman – portfolios held by the late sultan.

Battered finances

Elana DeLozier, senior fellow at the Washington Institute said the decision announced on Monday is a further devolution of the Sultan's power.

"It suggests a real move from the personalization of power we saw in Oman for decades to a more institutionalized model where power is more broadly shared," she said.

DeLozier added the text of the new Basic Law, which could be published next week, would help to know more or "begin to guess who might be the Heir to the Throne".

Oman, which saw Arab Spring-like protests in 2011 over unemployment, corruption and political reform, does not tolerate political parties or other forms of political representation.

Oman's finances have been battered by low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic. Rated sub-investment grade by all major credit rating agencies, it faces a widening deficit and large debt maturities in the next few years.

The new basic law creates a committee under the sultan to evaluate the performance of ministers, and provisions to support the state's financial and administrative oversight body.

Sultan Haitham in October approved a medium-term fiscal plan to make government finances sustainable.