DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar’s emir announced on Tuesday that the country will hold elections for its top advisory panel next year, a long-promised step that aims to give the country’s citizens more say on how their hereditary emirate is governed.
In a speech before the national legislative body, known as the Shura Council, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said the first-ever vote will take place in October 2021. He described it as “an important step” for the tiny energy-rich Gulf state to “develop the legislative process with a wider participation of citizens.”
Last year, Sheikh Tamim ordered the formation of a committee to organize elections for the Islamic-style council, but never announced a date for the vote. Qatar's constitution, approved in a 2003 referendum, calls for the government to hold Shura elections and subsequently expand the council's power to include the ability to dismiss ministers, approve the national budget as well as draft and propose legislation.
The elections would allow Qatari citizens to choose 30 of the country’s 45-seat Shura Council, which are now all handpicked by the state's rulers. The council has no substantive legislative power but advises the emir on new laws and policies.
Other oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies have varying levels of limited representation but remain governed from the top by hereditary rulers. Kuwait and Bahrain’s parliaments are elected and wield relatively more influence.
Sheikh Tamim also touched on the blockade that Saudi Arabia and its regional partners imposed on Qatar in 2017, tearing apart the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council. The four Arab allies say the diplomatic dispute stems from Qatar’s support for extremist groups in the region, charges denied by Doha.
“Despite the siege that is continuing for more than three years, the nation of Qatar is able to strengthen its position in the international community," said Sheikh Tamim.
In response to what he called the “double crisis" hitting the wealthy OPEC member nation, the coronavirus pandemic and plunging oil prices, Sheikh Tamim sought to assure the council of the continued strength of the country's energy sector and “durability of the Qatari riyal in facing external crises." He said the government, which has pledged 75 billion riyals ($20.5 billion) in financial incentives to the private sector, would continue to support manufacturers hurt by the pandemic.
He warned the public against complacency ahead of possible new round of coronavirus infections, noting that authorities could tighten restrictions to check the virus's spread.