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Emiri Diwan

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Emiri Diwan

Qatar’s Emir has extended the influential Advisory Council’s term for another three years, effectively postponing legislative elections until at least 2019.

Decree No. 30 of 2016 dismisses the 44th regular session of the council on July 18.

And Emiri decision No. 25 of 2016 will extend the council’s new term to June 30, 2019, QNA reports.

This is the first time Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is making such a decision as Emir. The move comes shortly before a decree made in the last few hours of his father’s rule expires.

Legislative elections

In 2011, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani pledged to hold legislative elections within two years.

However, in the summer of 2013, he yielded his leadership to Sheikh Tamim, and decided to extend the Advisory Council’s term in the midst of the power transition.

In Qatar, no laws can be enacted without first being discussed by the Advisory Council, one of the country’s two legislative wings.

As it stands, the Emir appoints the members of the council. But according to the constitution, 30 of the council’s members should be elected and 15 appointed.

However, public participation has been postponed for decades, according to legal experts. This has been based on the constitutional provision that “extending the council’s term is permitted if it is found to be in the public’s best interest.”

It is unclear what will happen in 2019. If the council term’s is extended again, then it’s possible elections would be held before the session expires in 2022.

Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Josh Hughes/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Competition for seats on Qatar’s only elected body is expected to be fierce this year, with 130 candidates running for 27 seats on the board.

The official list of Central Municipal Council (CMC) candidates was released this week.

The high number of people running for seats (101 stood for the last poll in 2011) is in stark contrast to record-low voter registration levels for the May 13 election.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Race Bannon/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Only Qataris can vote and run in CMC elections, but many have expressed skepticism about the body’s effectiveness. Formed in 1999, the council can only make recommendations and does not have any legislative authority.

In the fall of 2013, a report produced by the CMC’s general secretariat found that only one-third of some 111 recommendations made during the council’s last session were even acknowledged by authorities.

Still, the CMC has drawn attention to important civic matters such as the safety of petrol stations and rising housing costs.

This year’s candidate roster has five women, including current CMC member Sheikha Al Jefairi.

Competition is fiercer in some districts compared to others. For example, CMC vice-chairman Jassim Abdullah Al Malki from Constituency No. 1, is running uncontested.

And according to the Peninsula, sitting member Rabia bin Hamad bin Ajlan technically won the seat for Constituency No. 27 after his lone opponent withdrew his nomination.

Meanwhile, at least 10 people are vying to represent Constituency No. 11, which consists of Ain Khalid, Industrial Area, Measimeer south and Abu Hamour west.

Campaign rules

With the list officially announced, candidates are now expected to begin limited campaigning efforts around town.

2011 CMC campaign poster

Ousama Itani

2011 CMC campaign poster

According to the Peninsula, each council hopeful must first apply to the Ministry of Interior’s “media committee” to begin his/her campaign, and then seek permission from the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning if he/she wishes to put up posters in public places.

Once those hurdles are cleared, candidates must adhere to strict rules, including:

  • Slogans that try to fan sectarian or tribal passions are strictly banned;
  • No personal attacks on rivals (either directly or indirectly) are allowed;
  • No posters/banners can be hung or election speeches given in religious places, government offices and schools; and
  • Signs cannot be put up on electric or telephone polls.

The full list of candidates in available online in Arabic here.

Have you seen any campaign signage pop up in your part of town yet? Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Keith Ivey/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

FutUndBeidl/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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.

Democratic future

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.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Xavier Bouchevreau/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Race Bannon/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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?