Qatar poll sees increased turnout

Municipal council vote prepares emirate for possible parliamentary elections.

    Ballots were cast across to elect members to Qatar's 29-member municipal council [AFP]

    A woman won a contested election for the first time. Sheikha al-Jiffri, a member of the outgoing council, won the contested seat after she received the highest per centage of votes in her district, Atiq said.


    In voting for the Al-Shahaniyah council seat, Shaer Saud al-Shumarry won with 296 votes, the electoral committee announced.


    Saad Ali Hassan al-Nuaimi took the Al-Shamal constituency seat with a total of 175 votes, while Masaieed district was won by Said Ali Hamad al-Ghufran.


    Close watch

    The municipal council elections come ahead of the country's first partial legislative polls, expected to be announced later this year by Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar.


    "Until a few years back, people would not dare express their opinions in public. Today they freely criticise the government"

    Sheik Khalid Bin Jabor Al Thani, deputy chairman of the election committee

    The council was created in 1999 with Qatar's first set of elections, and today's vote marks its third term.


    Sawsan Abu Hamda, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Qatar, said "calmness" prevailed over the capital Doha during the vote.


    "[Qataris hope] the council will better services for the citizens in the near future particularly following the criticism it has received during the past few years," she added.


    Nightly election rallies have been held since campaigning began on March 8, with audiences listening to speeches by government officials, legal experts, candidates, voters and journalists.


    Some people have publicly criticised the outgoing council and the shortcomings of Qatar's electoral law.

    Many of the election manifestos feature promises to tackle everyday issues such as improving the quality of Qatar's roads.


    Close monitoring


    Government officials said before the election that it would be closely monitored to see how women candidates performed.


    Qatar has an indigenous population of 174,000 out of 750,000 inhabitants.


    Eighty per cent of Qatar's population are expatriate workers and are ineligible to vote.


    Qatari citizens of 18 years and older can cast ballots. Qataris with less than 10 years citizenship cannot vote.


    With at least half the population being under 18, this leaves the country with about 28,000 registered voters, almost half of whom are women.


    Recent reforms


    Qatar is ruled by a royal family and has introduced reforms in recent years.


    "We are in the process of learning. Democracy cannot be achieved overnight," said Sheik Khalid Bin Jabor Al Thani, a member of Qatar's royal family and deputy chairman of the election committee.


    "Until a few years back, people would not dare express their opinions in public. Today they freely criticise the government."


    Observers said the municipal council vote would encourage the eventual election and operation of a transparent governing body that allows public debate and input.


    A 2003 vote approved a new constitution leading to the eventual creation of a parliament.


    The national legislature would be partially elected by the people and partially appointed by the emir.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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