World Cup nation Qatar to hold Shura Council elections for first time in 2021

Move is a long-promised political reform by the Gulf state

David Harding
Tuesday 03 November 2020 17:08 GMT
Shura council.jpg
Shura council.jpg (VIA REUTERS)

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Qatar has announced it will hold direct elections to the country’s top advisory body for the first ever time, a long-promised political reform.

The country’s emir,  Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, said in an annual address to the nation on Tuesday that elections will take place for the Shura Council in October 2021, notably little more than a year before the Gulf state will host the Middle East’s first football World Cup.

The landmark reform has long been on the cards, after first being proposed by the country’s rulers more than a decade ago but, until now, the promise has never been carried through.

Al Thani said it would be “an important step towards strengthening Qatari advisory traditions and developing the legislative process with a wider participation of citizens".

No further details were immediately known about the elections, but it could see Qataris choose 30 of the country’s 45-seat Shura Council, currently handpicked by the state’s rulers. The council has no substantive legislative power but advises the emir on new laws and policies.

In 2017, four women were appointed to the council for the first time.

Qatar’s population stands at around 2.7 million, with Qataris, likely the only ones eligible to vote, numbering some 315,000.

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.

Currently the only body in Qatar elected by direct votes is the central municipal council. The last vote was in 2019.

Since Qatar was controversially selected to host the World Cup in November and December 2022, it has found itself under huge international scrutiny to reform, particularly in the way it treats the huge number of migrant workers in the country, many from south Asia.

Qatar has come under severe pressure for its treatment of workers ahead of the 2022 football World Cup (David Harding)
Qatar has come under severe pressure for its treatment of workers ahead of the 2022 football World Cup (David Harding) (David Harding)

The move to hold elections before the World Cup is the most substantial political reform announced by Doha in that time.

Since 2017 Qatar has found itself blockaded by neighbouring countries, including regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, and has since attempted to portray itself as one of the more progressive countries among rival Gulf monarchies.

Earlier this year it announced it was finally dismantling its much-criticised kafala labour system, likened by critics to modern-day slavery.

With agencies

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