Omanis vote in municipal elections

Activists say the poll in the Gulf state is a sign of progress, but take a "wait and see" attitude until results are in.

    Omanis vote in municipal elections
    Oman has faced sporadic protests over a lack of work and perceived corruption since early 2011 [Reuters]

    Hoping for jobs and democratic change, voters in Oman have cast ballots in their first municipal election.

    The poll on Saturday is a sign of modest reform in response to protests inspired by the Arab Spring.

    The small Gulf oil producer, ruled since 1970 by Sultan Qaboos, sits opposite Iran on the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for nearly a fifth of globally traded petroleum.

    Its only other elections are for the Shura Council, a body that has some limited legislative powers.

    Increased democracy was a main demand of protesters in Omani cities during the Arab uprisings last year, along with jobs and an end to corruption.

    Activists from last year's protest movement welcomed the election but cautioned that it was too early to tell whether
    it would lead to meaningful change.

    "It's good. This is what we've been protesting for, but it's too early to celebrate. Let's wait and see," said activist Ismail al-Rasbi.

    Some 1,475 candidates are seeking places on 192 local councils in the country of 2.8 million people.

    There were no reports of protests or other incidents across the country on Saturday afternoon. Each polling station had a police car parked outside to prevent trouble.

    Protests erupted in several Omani towns early last year inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, as demonstrators blocked major roads and went on strike demanding better pay, more jobs, action against graft and some democratic changes.

    But Sultan Qaboos remains a popular figure in a country that was mostly undeveloped and faced war in its Dhofar region when he seized power from his father.

    After the demonstrations, he swiftly reshuffled his cabinet and the government promised to create thousands of jobs,
    announced plans for municipal polls and granted the Shura Council some legislative power, with the right to approve or reject draft laws.

    The sultan, however, retains the final say.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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