Cairo: Qataris are due Saturday to head to polls for the country’s first ever legislative elections.
Around 252 candidates including 27 women are vying for 30 seats at the 45-strong Shura Council. Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad will appoint the 15 other members. All of them were previously appointed by the emir.
Last year, Tamim announced the long-awaited elections, calling them an “important step to strengthen traditions of shura [counselling]” in Qatar and develop the legislative process in the gas-rich country.
The elections have been repeatedly postponed since Qatar approved a new constitution in 2004.
According to the constitution, the Shura Council is empowered to draft legislation, approve the national budget and question government ministers.
Qataris make up around 313,000 of the country’s total population of 2.7 million, mostly migrant workers. Only descendants of Qataris who were citizens in 1930 are eligible to vote.
On Friday, hopefuls halted campaigning in observance of the so-called electoral silence. In the run-up to the polls, contenders appeared on state television touting their platforms and canvassing potential voters.
Meanwhile, voters were urged to elect “qualified” candidates. “Vote for the best and most qualified contender for a better tomorrow,” said men and women shown on the Qatari television.
According to rules, hopefuls for the Shura are running in electoral districts where their families or tribes resided in the 1930s.
The polls are held ahead of the World Cup, which Qatar will host next year. Qatari officials have repeatedly pledged free and fair elections.
“The country’s leadership is keen that the Shura elections will be held according to fair and transparent regulations,” Qatari Prime Minister Khalid bin Khalifa said in June.
“The government has set a limit for spending on campaigning. Candidates’ obtaining of foreign support or financing is criminalised. Likewise, any attempt to buy votes is considered a crime,” he added.
Seeking a high voter turnout, authorities have opted to hold the election on Saturday, a usual weekend in Qatar.
“We preferred to have the Election Day on a holiday day to give the chance for every voter to head to the polling station and participate away from pressure of work,” said Brig. Abdulraham Majid, a member of a committee overseeing the balloting.
The polling will open at 8am (5am GMT) and continue until 6pm.