Omanis formed long queues in two of the capital’s main polling stations this morning, to vote in the Gulft sultanate’s first ballot open to all citizens. The vote should give the 83-member advisory council a fifth three-year term.

"The sheikh (tribal chief) told me to vote for Saif al-Rahbi," said an elderly man who could hardly walk, even with the help of a cane, and had to be assisted to put his paper in the ballot box.
 
"The sheikh said we should vote for Rahbi," echoed Murad Laghu, who said he can't read or write but marked his choice beside a picture of his chosen candidate.

Women in the running

A total of 506 candidates - 15 of them women - are vying for seats on the Majlis ash-Shura, which advises the government on economic and social issues but has no say in defence, internal security or foreign policy.

Only 262,000 Omanis registered to cast their ballot despite a government campaign urging them to exercise their right to vote. The franchise was given to all citizens aged over 21 compared to just one in four of the population of 1.96 million in the last election three years ago.

An Omani woman casts her vote
at a polling station in Muscat

More than a third - 95,000 - of registered voters are women, who hold two seats in the outgoing council.

But many women in the capital's polling stations confided they had voted for male relatives or acquaintances.

"I voted for Mahmud bin Sakhi al-Balushi, because he is my relative but also because I know him and I know his plans. He deserves to be in the Majlis," said Nisrin Sakhi, a 22-year-old school teacher.

At one polling station, two sisters said they had voted to return incumbent Lujaina Mohsen Darwish, a businesswoman who is seen as having strong chances of reelection.

"She's done a lot for the people, especially helping the poor," said Wafa Bahrani. "She's also our relative," she smiled.
 
Not surprisingly, kinship was cited by many others as the reason for their choice of candidate in a country where family and tribal links are a dominant factor in people's lives.

Yet, several also tried to justify their decision by asserting that the candidate had promised to help provide services for his constituents.

A banner informs Omanis that
voting is a national duty 

Standing outside the polling station in the Bausher district of Muscat, candidate Mohammad bin Abdullah al-Rawass admitted he could not get his message to the voters because no election rallies are allowed and he had instead to try to woo tribal sheikhs in the hope of winning over their votes.

Still, a group of young women nearby said they wanted to vote for Rawass, who heads their college - except that they did not have voting cards.

The girls said they had followed procedures by applying to register through the college, and were trying to negotiate their way into the polling centre.

Polls opened at 0700 (0300 GMT) and were due to close at 1900 (1500 GMT).
 
An official announcement of the result is expected on Sunday morning.