Majlis Al Shura has to play a stellar role in Oman’s political process, say experts
July 26, 2015 | 4:29 PM

Muscat: Its legislative powers may be limited but the Majlis Al Shura still has an important role to play in Oman’s political process as a voice for the people, so voting in the upcoming elections is very important, experts say.

Since the 2011 Majlis Al Shura elections the members have been increasingly vocal and active, debating social issues and making recommendations. The Majlis Al Shura’s effectiveness is limited by current regulations which don’t allow it to exercise legislative power well but it is still gaining attention for trying to hold ministers accountable and for some of its proposals.

“What people need to do and why these elections are important is that even though it’s not a full legislative institution, it has taken some impressive steps since 2011. You’re starting to see more confidence among the members to challenge different ministers,” says Dr Leon Goldsmith, from SQU’s Department of Political Science.

A number of ministers have been called upon to answer questions, including the Minister of Higher Education, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Oil and Gas, and the Minister of Finance. Though the ministers often provide written responses rather than facing the Majlis Al Shura in person, they are still questioned, says Majlis Al Shura member for Mutrah, Tawfiq Al Lawati.

“Basically this is about raising questions, demanding the attendance of a minister to answer certain questions. We don’t have the power to cast a vote of no-confidence in a minister but the article 58-43 gave us the power to question the ministers for any passing of law or negligence or wrongdoing, which we have done,” Al Lawati explains.

The Majlis Al Shura has also debated many important topics during its past mandate and come up with proposals on for job seekers, for marriage loans, for housing complexes, for banning alcohol and for regulating the mining and quarries, among other things. Though they are not binding and need to be accepted by the government, they still reflect the needs and concerns of the Omani people, says Al Lawati.

“I find the Majlis Al Shura over the past three years has done a great job. They have addressed significant issues. They have taken up matters that are of importance to the average member of the public. They have their own views regarding certain legislation, certain public challenges. They have worked very hard” says Ahmed Al Mukhaini, a lawyer and political analyst.

He says the Majlis Al Shura is a place to discuss the needs of the country, such as infrastructure, education and business legislations, and question the results of the government’s decisions.

“For these questions we need to create a partnership between the people and the government and the people who are in the government should be accountable. The role of the Shura Council is basically they are holding these people accountable and questioning them,” he explains.

Al Mukhaini says that rather than dismiss the Majlis Al Shura as being ineffective because it lacks legislative powers, people should help strengthen it or they may risk it becoming irrelevant. He says people must remember that they live in a monarchy, not a democracy and since they have been provided with the Majlis Al Shura as a forum to have their voices heard, they should make use of it.

“When we are provided with the opportunity, we have the choice: either to participate and grow this right and evolve this right, or stay numb and then we risk losing this right,” he says.

Goldsmith sees the Majlis Al Shura as a part of a long-term process of slowly granting more power to the people. It began with the formation of the State Council in 1981 and has steadily evolved, resulting in the first general elections for the Majlis Al Shura elections in 2003.

“This is not, like we see in other cases, a facade-like institution. There is a very clear trajectory. In my view, what we’re starting to see is the beginning of a bottom-up process,” Goldsmith says.

A political process involving the citizens requires an educated, united and mature society, so since 1970 the emphasis has been on education and socio-economic development to achieve that goal, Goldsmith explains.

“They were concerned that if they instigated these representative politics at the early stages the country was still very fragile in terms of the different ethnic, tribal and sectarian groups. If you had an immediate implementation at that time you would have fragmentation and a difficult time making the country cohesive,” he says.

While other Arab countries have tried applying a Western-style democracy, most have failed, Goldsmith says. Oman has an advantage since it is pursuing its own, indigenous form of political participation.

“This is part of Omani traditions, where they would elect the imam. Then [the imams] were obliged to consult widely with the different sheikhs and the walis and the different parts of the imamate. There is a tradition of Shura, or consultation,” he says.

Al Lawati says people need to get involved in politics so they can help shaped the future of Oman, especially its economy, which is facing challenges due to the drop in oil prices. He says the Majlis Al Shura is a place to discuss the needs of the country, such as infrastructure, education and business legislations, and question the results of the government’s decisions.

“We should understand that the people need to participate and decide on what are their priorities,” he said.

Goldsmith says citizens who are eligible to vote should cast their ballots as a way to make their voices heard and to be entitled to an opinion on the Majlis Al Shura itself. Even if none of the candidates are quite what one is looking for in a representative, there is still value in voting and holding the elected members to account.

“Don’t just sit back and complain that this member doesn’t represent me. That’s not how democracies should work. Take those opportunities and hold them to account. Support the political process. They can’t say anything if they don’t vote,” he says.

Reporter can be reached at [email protected]

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