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Disappointment as no women elected in Qatar

DOHA: A Qatari woman casts her ballot at a polling station yesterday, during the country’s first ever legislative vote. – AFP

DOHA: Women voters voiced disappointment yesterday after none were elected in Qatar’s first legislative polls, with all eyes on whether the amir will use his powers to appoint 15 lawmakers to boost representation. Thirty men were elected to Qatar’s Shura Council at Saturday’s polls despite more than two dozen women standing for the body which is seen as a nod to democracy rather than a fully-fledged parliament.

“The (amir’s) quota is the lifeline to ensure women’s representation in the next assembly,” said defeated candidate Aisha Jassim Al-Kuwari, who ran in a constituency alongside four other women against 14 male contenders. “We hope to appoint four to five women because the presence of women is very important. Some of the female candidates were disappointed, of course, because they presented strong programs – but we should not forget that some female voters chose men and this is the will of the people.”

It is not known when the amir’s appointments will be announced or when the council will meet. “I’m not happy because all of them (winners) are men – some of them are old. To be honest, I was surprised. It’s not fair,” said voter Shamma who declined to give her full name. “We are really sad.” Dania Thafer, director of the Gulf International Forum, tweeted “I foresee a strong likelihood of women being appointed by the amir”.

Of the 284 hopefuls who went into the race for the 30 available council seats, just 28 were women although the final proportion after a number of eleventh-hour candidate withdrawals has not been published. As well as counting no women amongst their number, the 30 victorious candidates were older men mostly from prominent families, many of whom had backgrounds in business or government.

“You lost the battle of victory, but you won the war of participation!” popular Qatari author Ebtesam Al-Saad wrote on Twitter. “We still hesitate to accept women… voters still feel that their communication with men is more free and flexible than their dealings with women.” If as expected by many analysts the amir does directly appoint women to improve the gender balance it would follow what happened in Bahrain’s legislative election.

Official sources had confirmed to AFP this was a likely outcome in the event no women succeeded at the ballot box in Qatar. “Disappointed, but not surprised that not a single woman has won. Representation of women is still considered a ‘token’ representation and is based on filling a quota,” said Qatari voter Haya. “Maybe now we can all admit what the true status of women is here and stop pretending we’re an egalitarian society.”

The Gulf Center for Human Rights said that Qatar’s election laws would “need to be fully amended” to give women candidates a chance at future polls. The final voter turnout was 63.5 percent according to official data. Qatar touts the level of representation enjoyed by its women with the health ministry led by a woman and the foreign ministry represented by a spokeswoman. Women also hold prominent roles in the World Cup organizing committee as well as philanthropy and the arts, medicine, law and business. The Shura will be allowed to propose legislation, approve the budget and recall ministers, but the all-powerful amir will wield a veto. – AFP


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