October 30, 2015

Young, fresh faces win Oman elections

56.6% participated in polls

MUSCAT - Nearly three-quarters of Oman’s newly elected Consultative (Shura) Council are first-time legislators following a vote that was marked by lower turnout than previous elections.

The October 25th election, which had 590 candidates, including 20 women, competing for the coun­cil seats, resulted in 70% of the 85-member council being elected for the first time, while only one fe­male candidate won a seat, accord­ing to the Interior Ministry.

According to the government, 297,905 out of 525,785 registered voters — 56.6% — participated in the polls, a sharp drop from 2011 elections when 77% of the elector­ate took part.

Omani political commentator Ahmed Ali al-Mukhaini said the turnout was “disappointing” and was an indication of decreased in­terest among the populace.

Oman has been relatively more progressive with more female par­ticipation in politics than its Gulf neighbours. In 1994, Oman grant­ed women the right to vote and to stand for public office, while, almost a decade later, the govern­ment appointed its first female minister, the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member to do so.

Despite that record, the recent election resulted in just one female candidate being elected. Nemah al-Busaidiya was re-elected as a representative of Muscat’s Seeb district.

Aisha Kharusi, a women’s rights advocate from Muscat, said the low female representation on the new council was “disappointing”. New council members would hopefully be “progressive in their decision-making”, she said.

According to local reports, the majority of winners were in their 30s, signifying a break from tra­dition in the conservative Gulf, which usually favours elders.

“Generally, the election of many new young and well-qualified faces and re-election of good performing previous members reflect a good degree of responsibility and aware­ness among many voters as well as their aspirations for a more effec­tive role to be played by the coun­cil,” said Omani social commenta­tor Younis al-Harrasi.

The sultanate created the Con­sultative Council in 1991 but the body is limited in its policy-mak­ing, with issues relating to foreign affairs, domestic security and de­fence off the table.

The elections in Oman come dur­ing an economically challenging time, as a sustained period of low oil prices has strained the country’s economy, 85% of which is depend­ent on oil and gas sales. In its latest report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned, that unlike other GCC members, Oman faces greater risk to its economy because of the decline in oil prices. The IMF expects Oman’s budget deficit to widen to 17.7% of gross domestic product in 2015 and 20% in 2016.

There is also uncertainty regard­ing the health of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, who has ruled Oman since 1970.

He is reportedly suffering from colon cancer. The sultan, who has not been seen in public since March after eight months of treatment in Germany, is unmarried and has no successor.

Four years ago, he amended the succession process, designating five top officials to confirm the next sultan in case of any royal family dispute. They would confirm the person nominated by Qaboos in a document to be kept sealed until his death.

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