Many Qataris see the upcoming municipal council elections as a positive development towards greater democracy and political reforms.
About 34,000 Qatari voters are expected to participate in the April elections—the fourth such elections since they were restored in 1998-- an increase of 6,000 voters compared with 2007.
Ibrahim bin Ali al-Marri, a Qatari lawyer, said the upcoming municipal council elections would usher in many elements of change that represent political reform.
"Qatar today is experiencing a new reality," he told Al-Shorfa. "We are all aware of that. The country is now on the world map. Change and internal reform are on the minds of Qatari lawmakers. To be sure, the new municipal council will bring many seeds of change, and I believe it will provide a spark for wider reforms."
The first municipal council in Qatar appeared in the early 1950s and was reconstituted in February 1956. The Municipality of Doha—the first municipality in the country— was established in May 1963. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs was established in April 1972 as a central body overseeing the work of municipalities.
The idea of electing the municipal council was revived when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, issued a law in 1998 that called for election of the Central Municipal Council. A decree announced in 1998 was issued that established a system for electing members of the Central Municipal Council.
"The Municipal council represents a new road to having a legislative council with wide powers," al-Mirri said.
Voter registration began January 23rd and ended January 27th. There are 29 electoral districts in Qatar. The electoral rolls in several districts were updated as specified by the Higher Elections Committee. The minimum voting age is 18 years old for men and women. Individuals who voted in the last election do not have to register again.
Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani issued new amendments to the election law regulating municipal council elections. The amendments stipulate that municipal council candidates must be at least 30 years old instead of 25, be registered on the voters' roster and have a permanent residence in the district where they are campaigning. The council elections will be held four months before the end of the term of the council currently in office.
According to the new regulations, ministry of interior employees and members of the military are ineligible to run for council membership. The interior minister has the right to object to decisions taken by the council within 45 days. The Secretary-General of the Council will be responsible for implementing council decisions, receiving requests from members and supervising the administrative units.
Judge Hassan al-Sayed said increasing the minimum age for candidates to 30 years ensures that municipal council members will be more mature, as is the case with members of the Shura Council. But he said the council's powers will be limited in some areas.
"Placing the final opinion in the minister's hands and excluding certain groups from running under the pretext of ensuring independence weakens the position of the council and sets a number of obstacles before it," al-Sayed told Al-Shorfa.
Colonel Salem al-Marikhi, Chairman of the Legal Committee for the elections, said the committee continues to work with the technical committees for the elections "in terms of ensuring the safety of the ballots so that they meet all the conditions outlined in the Election Law. The committee is responding to all legal inquiries it received from the registration committees and the committees arising from the Supervisory Committee for the elections."
Iman al-Adani, a student, expressed enthusiasm after registering her name for the first time.
"Of course I am happy," she told Al-Shorfa. "I will vote for the first time. It is a great feeling. The elections are part of a democratic process that has begun to take hold in Gulf countries too. In Qatar, we are experiencing a new reality, and I think the new municipal council will be more representative of the population."