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Qatari citizens voted for the first time in elections for an advisory council

The “experiment,” as Qatari officials have described it, comes as the 2022 World Cup shines a light on the hereditarily ruled nation and generates pressure for reform. Qatar initially presented plans for parliamentary elections in its 2003 constitution, but authorities repeatedly postponed the vote.

The Qataris went to the polls on Saturday to choose two-thirds of the 45 members of the Shura Council, which drafts laws, approves state budgets, debates major issues and advises the ruling Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. However, the body has no control over questions of defense, security and economy.

The vast majority of the 300 or so candidates are men, almost all from the same family or tribe in several districts.

The country’s electoral law, which distinguishes between born and naturalized Qatari citizens and prohibits them from participating in elections, has drawn criticism from rights groups. In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch called the system “discriminatory,” excluding thousands of Qataris from running or voting. The disqualifications sparked minor tribal protests which led to several arrests.

Sheikh Tamim, who previously elected all of the board members, will select the remaining 15 members of the body and retain ultimate authority over decision-making in the energy-rich country. Like other Arab Gulf states, Qatar bans political parties. Foreign workers outnumber Qatari citizens in the small country of 2.8 million nearly nine to one.

Among the sheikhs of the Persian Gulf, only the Kuwaiti parliament wields any real influence over the government, with lawmakers empowered to introduce laws and question ministers. The elected body, however, frequently and loudly clashes with the cabinet appointed by the emir, blocking major initiatives and hampering economic development.

The move brings Qatar closer to the United Arab Emirates, where citizens vote for a limited number of seats in an advisory parliament that advises the government.

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ABC News

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