Qataris submit ballots for municipal elections [AFP]

Qataris are heading to the polls to choose municipal council representatives in elections seen as a small step towards greater representative democracy in the Gulf state.

Voters are choosing members of Doha’s 29-seat municipal council, and similar elections are being held in towns across the country to elect councils that oversee the delivery of local services and advise ministers on matters like road construction, sanitation and parks.

Some 117 candidates, among them just four women, are standing for a place on the Doha council. Only one woman served on the outgoing council.

Nationwide, only 34,000 people - Qatari nationals over 18 years old - are eligible to vote. That leaves far over a million residents in the country with no representative voice.

Qatar has a growing population of about 1.7 million, but nationals number around 300,000. The remaining 1.4 million majority are foreigners lured by work opportunities and a massive economic boom, fuelled by the third largest natural gas reserves in the world.

A new constitution, passed in a 2003 referendum and introduced in 2005, placed legislative power in a parliamentary-like council, made up of 45 members, two thirds of whom would be elected and the rest appointed by the country's emir. But currently, the entire council is named by the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

The prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jasem Al Thani, said in February that Doha was moving toward legislative polls "in the near  future."

Source: Al Jazeera and AFP