Qatar concluded its first legislative elections on Saturday without a woman being elected to a representative council that seems unlikely to alter the distribution of power in the emirate.
The vote was for 30 members of the 45-member Shura Council, a body with limited powers that was previously appointed by the emir as an advisory chamber.
Male candidates were chosen in the 30 seats that will stand in the elections, reported the electoral committee of the Interior Ministry, despite the fact that 28 women were initially authorized to participate in the polls.
The results raise the possibility that the emir will use his 15 direct appointments to the council to correct the imbalance.
It is not known when the appointments will be announced or when the council will meet.
Final voter turnout was 63.5 percent according to officials, significantly higher than in the 2019 municipal elections, when less than 10 percent of voters cast their votes.
A tentative tally released by state television Saturday afternoon suggested that a third of the approved candidates, some 101 contenders, had dropped out of the race on Saturday afternoon.
However, the Qatari state news agency later reported that there were a total of 233 candidates.
It was unclear if those who had withdrawn had formally withdrawn or if they had asked their supporters to endorse other candidates.
“When the candidates realized that they had no chance of winning a seat, they decided to endorse other candidates,” said Andreas Krieg, associate professor at King’s College London.
Across the Gulf emirate, orderly queues of Qataris dressed in nationality formed throughout the day inside polling stations, mostly schools and sports halls.
In District 17, a chauffeured Mercedes-Benz and a pearl white Rolls Royce SUV dropped off voters at an elementary school. Women were the majority among the steady stream of voters there at lunchtime.
Observers say the repeatedly delayed decision to hold the elections comes with Qatar under increased scrutiny as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.
Former US Ambassador to Qatar Susan Ziadeh said Qatar was “looking to see how its position on the world stage improves,” prompting it to organize elections before 2022.
On the issue of women’s representation, Ziadeh said female voters would focus on “rights, be it personal status codes and other issues.”
“They are going to be looking at how they can use this body,” he added before the results.
The Shura will be able to propose legislation, approve the budget and remove the ministers. But the emir, almighty in the world’s largest liquefied natural gas exporter, will exercise a veto.
“At the beginning of the day, I heard a lot of people say that they would not vote because there will be no change, but we saw a lot of people,” said voter Sultan Abdullah al-Kuwari. “This bodes well for change.”
In the working-class suburb of Najma, candidates and voters stopped for afternoon prayers on mats that had been set up inside the 10th district polling station, which, like all the others, was segregated by gender.
Beyond the municipal meetings, posters and announcements of a single candidate, the country’s electoral exercise was limited, with no possibility of a change of government and banned political parties.
The candidates uniformly avoided debate about Qatar’s foreign policy or its monarchy status, instead focusing on social issues.
All candidates had to be approved by the powerful Ministry of the Interior.
Most of the 2.5 million people in Qatar are foreigners and cannot vote.
The candidates were placed in electoral divisions linked to where their family or tribe was based in the 1930s, using data compiled by the then British authorities.
Qataris number around 333,000, but only the descendants of those who were citizens in 1930 had the right to vote and stand, disqualifying members of families naturalized since then.
Some members of the important Al-Murrah tribe were among those excluded from the electoral process, sparking fierce online debate and isolated protests.
“I think unfortunately (the election) is made through the lens rather than out of a genuine desire for a more transparent and fair process,” said a young Qatari, who did not vote and declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the election.