Qatar votes in first election with spotlight on upcoming World Cup
(Bloomberg) – After nearly two decades of delay, Qatar holds its first parliamentary elections on Saturday, giving people a modest say in how they are governed as it prepares to step up global surveillance ahead of it. host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
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Among the Gulf monarchies, only Kuwait has made real progress towards voter empowerment, with a fully elected parliament. Yet its quasi-democracy has contributed to the development of dysfunctional policies. The vote in Qatar, authorized under a 2003 constitution, will not dilute the power of the ruling dynasty in the same way. He did, however, reveal underlying currents of dissatisfaction in a country that calls for democracy abroad but tolerates little dissent at home.
Citizens will choose two-thirds of the 45 members of the Shura Council, who can introduce and approve certain laws, pass budgets and question ministers. So far, he has been entirely appointed by the Emir, who will hold another 15 positions and retain a right of veto over decisions. Twenty-eight of the 284 candidates are women and parties are banned.
“The authorities are really looking to keep a grip on the process, the candidates and, to some extent, the outcome,” said Sofia Meranto, Gulf analyst at Eurasia Group. “The changes will be mostly cosmetic for now, but opening up the space for public debate creates long-term risks.”
This is a critical moment for Qatar – an ally of the United States which is the world’s largest LNG producer and has a sovereign wealth fund of more than $ 360 billion – given the world and the credit earned by playing a central role in the evacuation of foreigners and Afghans from the Taliban regime.
Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who this year has bridged a divide with the Gulf neighbors, will want to spend years where international organizations have hammered Qatar on its human rights record and further diversify a economy based on hydrocarbon exports.
Voters debated candidates over policies ranging from investment transparency to the need for maternity leave and expanding social security benefits in virtual meetings and small gatherings at hotels, with discussions sometimes turning into acrimonious on Twitter.
Members of the Al-Murrah tribe, many of whom were excluded from the ballot by a controversial 2005 rule that distinguishes citizens based on where their ancestors lived, carried out protests in August that were unprecedented in Qatar for decades. An order from the emirs to disperse and the government’s promise to review the nationality law appeared to quell outrage, but Human Rights Watch says at least 14 people were arrested.
“I don’t know if Qatar takes this element of ‘unintended consequences’ into account, where you’re going to get a more daring population, potentially more willing to protest,” said Kuwait University political scientist Bader Al-Saif.
Meranto predicts that conservative business interests could have an inordinate grip in the council as in other Gulf bodies, which could spark a public backlash against Sheikh Tamim’s modernization agenda. They have already tried. Earlier this year, the council tried unsuccessfully to convince the government to cut back on labor reforms that have won Qatar scant international praise.
Ali Issa Al-Khulaifi, a Qatari lawyer, downplayed the potential for disagreement, with the government and council taking a “merged point of view.” The Qatar government’s Communications Office said in a statement that the elections were aimed at strengthening the role of the legislature and improving citizen participation in the political process.
“Qatar is seeking a golden loop” between a legislative body like Kuwait’s, which is powerful enough to obstruct but without insisting on politics, and advice in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia which exercises little of power, said Kristin Smith Diwan, senior resident. researcher at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
“I think Kuwait was at the center of their concerns when they were developing the system,” Al-Saif said, pointing to the appointments and arrangements of the emirs which require two-thirds of the Qatari council to train ministers in interrogations.
“We are the model case for the rest of the Gulf on what not to do.”
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