As authorities urge locals to sign up to vote in the upcoming Central Municipal Council elections, apathy appears to be running high. While it’s true that CMC members can only recommend – and not effect – change, one young Qatari who will be voting for the first time explains why it’s still essential for her peers to participate in the process.
In 2011, during the height of the Arab Spring, the government made a promise on live television that in 2013, the Qatari people would have the right to vote for the Majlis Al Shura, which is Qatar’s legislative branch. Not surprisingly, in 2013, the Majlis Al Shura elections were delayed.
This week, voter registration began for another election, the Central Municipal Council (CMC) election. The CMC is Qatar’s only elected body.
Currently, its members have little to no power. The CMC is simply a consultative body and approximately only 40 percent of its recommendations were accepted by the state in the fourth council term, according to the Vice Chairman, Jassem Al Malki, as reported by Al Raya.
The CMC’s lack of power appears to have affected voter registration turnout – in the first four days of voter registration, only 7,442 people registered.
And if the past is any indication, the number of those who actually are expected to turn up for elections could be as low as 50 percent of registered voters. In 2011 for example, only 13,606 out of 32,662 registered voters turned out to cast their vote.
The population of Qataris is roughly around 300,000 people, but even a conservative estimate of 250,000 people would still mean less than 3 percent of Qataris have registered to vote this year.
This is unfortunate, because regardless of the lack of interest in the CMC election, the future of Qatar is a democratic one and the constitution makes that clear.
In order to move forward, the CMC needs to be given more power and responsibility because it will result in greater civic engagement. Currently, the CMC is not taken seriously not only because of its lack of power, but also because of the quality of candidates and their recommendations.
The CMC members are known to make outlandish comments. An example would be Ahmad Al Shaeeb’s recommendation for the government to create marriage bureaus with a database of prospective spouses, turning the state into a matchmaker of sorts.
Nevertheless, giving the CMC more power is the way to go. Expanding the body’s responsibilities could raise the stakes, which would help improve the caliber of candidates and boost voter participation.
As it stands, the CMC is to a large extent pointless, so citizens are reluctant to waste their time voting or running for a council that only has the power to recommend changes.
Voters currently elect their friends and families and there is not much downside to whom they elect for the CMC. Empowering the CMC and thus giving citizens greater responsibility in whom they choose would change that.
‘Ready’ to vote?
Additionally, the CMC is a great way to test electoral voting before the first election for the Majlis Al Shura occurs. A fear and a reason why many support the delay of the Majlis Al Shura’s election in Qatar is because the people are seen as not “ready” for electoral voting – and to some extent this is true.
Currently, there are only a few groups that can mobilize citizens to vote. Furthermore, only 8 percent of Qataris believe having more say is a national priority, according to a 2012 survey on life in Qatar.
This lack of civic engagement in the electoral process is frightening.
There needs to be greater civic engagement and participation so when the Majlis Al Shura elections occur, citizens are equipped with the knowledge and experience of voting.
Voting is a privilege and we as Qataris must not abuse this process, which is why this week I registered to vote. We need to vote, we need to show we care about our country and its future.
Voter registration is easy and quick. Furthermore, it can be done no matter where you are through your phone using the Metrash 2 application.
The government has also set up a hotline number (2342555) for inquires. Voter registration ends Jan. 22, 2015, and the final candidate list will be announced in early February. Elections will be held in May.
Do you plan to be heard? Thoughts?