DOHA – Qataris will vote in the emirate’s first legislative election Saturday, in a symbolic nod to democracy that analysts say will not lead to power moving away from the ruling family.
The vote is for 30 members of the 45-strong Shura Council, a body with limited powers that was previously appointed by the emir as an advisory chamber.
Polls will open at 0500 GMT and close at 1500 GMT with the results expected the same day.
Observers say the decision to hold the election, required under the 2004 constitution but repeatedly delayed on “national interest” grounds, comes amid heightened scrutiny as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.
“They consider that doing it before the FIFA World Cup will attract more positive attention as a way to show they are taking positive steps,” said Luciano Zaccara, an assistant professor in Gulf politics at Qatar University.
“It’s a way to show that they are moving in the right direction, that they want to achieve more political participation.”
The Shura will be allowed to propose legislation, approve the budget and recall ministers. But the emir, all-powerful in the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, will wield a veto.
The streets of Qatar’s towns have been speckled with billboards adorned with beaming candidates sporting national dress.
Beyond single-candidate town hall meetings, posters and TV spots, the country’s introduction to democracy has been limited, with no change of government possible and political parties outlawed.
All candidates had to be approved by the powerful interior ministry against a host of criteria, including age, character and criminal history.
Candidates have also been required to register official campaign events with the ministry in advance, as well as the names of all speakers as authorities seek to clamp down on possible sectarianism or tribalism.
The candidates are mostly men, with just 28 women among the 284 hopefuls running for the 30 available council seats. The remaining 15 seats will be appointed by the emir.
Most of Qatar’s 2.5 million residents are foreigners, ineligible to vote.
Candidates will have to stand in electoral divisions linked to where their family or tribe was based in the 1930s, using data compiled by the then-British authorities.
Diplomatic sources suggest families and tribes have already conducted internal ballots to determine who will be elected for their constituencies.
One voter, who declined to be named, said that as there were only a few candidates from their area, it was “pretty clear” who they would vote for.
“I’m not as engaged with the other (districts) – it’s still a new process and we’re trying to figure out what it really means for us,” the voter said.
Qataris number about 333,000, but only descendants of those who were citizens in 1930 are eligible to vote and stand, disqualifying members of families naturalised since then.
Some members of the sizeable Al-Murrah tribe are among those excluded from the electoral process, sparking a fierce debate online.