Sunday 5 October 2003 (09 Sha`ban 1424)
Omanis Vote in Their First Free Election
S. Manoj, Special to Arab News
MUSCAT, 5 October 2003 - Omanis went to the polls yesterday in the first
free elections to the country's Shoura Council.
Some 506 candidates, including 15 women, were running for seats in the
83-member council, which has no formal powers but is consulted on new laws and
economic policies. Sultan Qaboos announced universal suffrage late last year,
joining other regional states that are introducing democratic reforms. Hundreds
of voters, including women, formed long queues in the capital Muscat's polling
stations. Observers noted that the turnout was bigger than in previous
There are an estimated 800,000 eligible voters in the sultanate of 1.96
million. Voting continued late into the evening at 95 polling stations in 59
Despite a six-month-long awareness campaign, during which the government
used text messages with the help of Omantel, put up banners at vantage points,
conducted seminars and workshops among other innovative ideas to get the
population to register, only 262,000 people registered. Of those, 100,000 were
women. Voters chose their candidates on the basis of friendship, kinship or on
the advice of elders.
In previous elections in this small Gulf country, only 25 percent of the
population were eligible to vote. In 2000, community and tribal leaders
selected one out of four citizens, usually of prominent status, to vote. The 15
women candidates in the fray this time, include a journalist from the official
Arabic newspaper Oman and a top businesswoman.
Votes are to be tallied by computers for the first time and preliminary
results were expected today. The Shoura Council's new term begins early next
Oman has been experimenting with elections for the past eight years,
first introducing limited participation and then women voters and candidates.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, Kuwait has had an elected Parliament since 1963,
but women are barred from voting and running for office. Bahrain reintroduced
an elected Parliament last year, the first since 1975. Qatar is planning
elections next year for its first Parliament; both men and women will be
eligible to vote.