The results of Oman’s Shura Council Election gave some hope for progressives in the country after an impressive turnout. The Shura Council is the lower house of the Council of Oman, established in 1991 by a royal decree from Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Today, the council serves as an advisory body to the ruler. In 2011, the mandate of the Shura Council was extended, giving it powers to review laws, propose legislation, and call in ministers for questioning. It also now has the power to draft Oman’s development policies. While the Shura Council is elected by the people, the upper house of the Council of Oman, the State Council, is appointed by the Sultan. Those elected to the Shura serve for four years.
In a country of some 4.5 million, a province with a population of under 30,000 is represented by one member in the Shura Council, while those with a population of over 30,000 send two representatives. This means that Omani citizens are significantly more proportionally represented in the Shura Council than UK citizens are in the House of Commons, or US voters are in the Senate.
According to Interior Ministry data, 349,680 of Oman’s 713,335 registered voters took part in the October 27 election across 110 voting centers. This represents a 20% increase from the 611,906 voters who had turned out in the previous election in 2015. There was also a significant increase in the number of female voters this time around, with 337,534 women taking part in this election, along with 375,801 men, across Oman’s 61 provinces.
The ninth session of the Majlis Al Shura will include 84 men and two women: Tahira al Lawatiya and Fadhila Abdullah Suleiman al Ruaili. While this is an increase over the one woman elected in 2015, progressives were hoping for more. All in all, there were 637 candidates, of whom 597 were men and 40 were women.
These results do not reflect the gender balance of the voters, of whom 52.7% were male and 47.3% were female. Nevertheless, some progressives have praised the election result from a gender equality perspective, pointing to how Oman fares by regional standards: notably, Oman shares a border with Yemen, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.
Unlike many countries (including several Western states), voters in Oman were given leave from work as the government encouraged as many people to vote as possible.
Unlike many countries (including several Western states), voters in Oman were given leave from work as the government encouraged as many people to vote as possible, under the guidance of Minister of the Interior Hamoud bin Faisal Al Busaidi. Voting machines even granted automatic leave to private sector workers, once their vote had been cast. Overseas voters were given the ability to vote through an app and, for the first time, the deadline for voting was extended from 7pm to 9pm.
As a result of these changes, there was also a significant youth turnout. “It’s good to see that the young citizens are aware of how their vote affects the country’s political system,” said Abdullah Al Sumri, a senior chemist and resident of the Port of Sohar.
This year’s elections were also much improved from an organizational point of view. Businessman Emad Al Balushi, who also voted in the 2015 election, spoke to the Times of Oman about the significant improvements in the running of this year’s campaign. “The voting experience was fully automated, fast, and well-organized and shows better information about the candidates to voters,” he said. “Upon voting, a citizen can see pictures of the candidates and their candidate numbers.”
While there were some problems with finger-scanning technology, officials said that this will improve next time, this election having been the first time the technology was used. Some observers are concerned that there may be problems with the system in future elections, if voter turnout continues to grow. Social researcher Yousuf Al Zadjali said: “I see no problem in using an electronic polling system but the systems we use should have a strong server in order to be able to maintain efficiency even if the number of users grows rapidly within the same period.”
The smooth running of this year’s election exemplifies why Oman is able to present itself as a regional exception in both stability and democracy.
The smooth running of this year’s election exemplifies why Oman is able to present itself as a regional exception in both stability and democracy. Speaking at the 28th Annual Arab-US Policymakers Conference in Washington DC on October 24, H.E. Mohamed el Hassan, Ambassador to the Permanent Representative of Oman to the UN, opposed certain perceptions of the Middle East, which he believes to be false and harmful.
El Hassan denied the accusation that the Middle East is a liability to the US, for instance, pointing to the positive relationship between Washington and Muscat. He also challenged the commonplace assumption that the Middle East is a politically static region, saying that there are “many opportunities for change” in our time – el Hassan applied this idea to the war in Yemen, saying it was defeatist and wrong to assume the solutions to the conflict can only come through war. He emphasized Oman’s potential role in brokering a political solution to the conflict.
El Hassan also spoke of the harm that is done by western policy makers ignorant of the true situation in the Middle East. With regard to Iran, he said it is folly to imagine that crippling the country’s economy will make the regime in Iran amend its extreme policies. “Far from it,” he said, “it is likely to make the situation worse.”
In all of these areas, el Hassan lauded Oman’s capacity to be a “bridge to peace,” an impartial regional broker for positive change. While recognizing the scale of the problems in the region, el Hassan told the audience at the Ronald Reagan building that the west needs to expand, not reduce its circle of friends in the region.
He insisted that the security of Yemen is crucial for regional stability and called for it to be admitted to The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). He also stressed the positive role that stable countries like Oman can play in the search for a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, saying that a solution could be found if the rights of all parties were brought to the forefront of the conversation.