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Election for Oman’s lower house of parliament in uncertain times

October 25, 2015 - OMAN

Sultan Qaboos bin Said's frequent absences abroad for medical treatment have created a climate of uncertainty ahead of the anticipated election for the 84-seat Majlis al-Shura, a legislature that gained clout following Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011.

The 74-year-old sultan's illness raises the spectre of everything from cancelled elections to a power vacuum and instability, particularly if his political reforms were to be scrapped.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said is said to be a popular figure in his country, and there is little to suggest backtracking on either the elections or reforms if the reins remain firmly in his hands. The BBC reports that his absences bring decision-making in the sultanate to a halt. This has created concern over who will take the throne should the Sultan, who has no children, fail to recover.

When protesters rallied for political and economic reforms in 2011, the sultan responded by cracking down, but he also answered some of their demands. He promised programs to create jobs and anti-corruption measures, and gave the Majlis al-Shura, then an advisory body, limited legislative power. He preserved the right to overrule the lawmakers, however, and drew the line at allowing political parties.

In 2012, voters cast ballots in their first municipal election. Among 1,133 candidates who contested for 84 Majlis seats in 2011, only 77 were women, according to the Times of Oman, and only one woman was elected. New reforms had been anticipated for the incoming legislature.

The Council of Oman, the bicameral legislature of the small Gulf oil producer, ruled since 1970 by Sultan Qaboos, was established by royal decree in 1996. It consists of the 71-seat Majlis al-Dawla or upper chamber, an advisory body appointed by the sultan; and the Majlis al-Shura or lower chamber, elected by popular vote for four-year terms.

Oman profile - Timeline (BBC 24 Nov 2014)

Q&A: Elections to Oman's Consultative Council (BBC 13 Oct 2011)

Oman elections: Citizens call for female quota in Majlis Al Shura for parity (Times of Oman 2 Feb 2015)

Date written/update: 2015-05-13