Qatari voters began to cast ballot on Saturday in the country’s first legislative elections.
The Gulf State is holding legislative elections for the advisory Shura Council for the first time in its history.
The Council was created on 19 April in 1972. Under previous rules, all members were appointed by the Qatari ruler. Now, 30 will be elected by voters and 15 will appointed by the Emir.
A total of 234 candidates are contesting in the polls to win seats in the advisory and legislative body, which discusses and approves general state policies, budgets and draft law proposals.
Nearly 300 candidates across 30 constituencies have registered for the polls, including 29 women, according to Al Jazeera.
The vote “will not transform” the country “into a democracy,” Al Jazeera quoted Giorgio Cafiero, CEO and founder of Gulf State Analytics, a geopolitical risk consulting firm, as saying.
Political parties are banned in Qatar, but citizens are allowed to vote in municipal elections.
“But at least we can view it as a step in that direction, with these elections further gravitating Qatar towards a more representative system of governance,” says Cafiero.
“Qatar’s attempt to establish citizen participation in government could have been a moment to celebrate, but it has been tarnished by denying many Qataris their full citizenship rights and repressing critics of arbitrary voter disenfranchisement,” Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said last month.
This criticism comes after the electoral law in the Gulf State differentiates between naturalised and native Qatari citizens. Human rights groups and naturalised citizens say it effectively disenfranchises thousands of Qataris from voting or running.
The law, approved by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in July, states that citizens over the age of 18, “whose original nationality is Qatari” or are considered naturalised but can prove their grandfathers were born in Qatar, can vote, Al Jazeera reported. However, other naturalised citizens are ineligible to run for legislative bodies and are denied the right to vote.