If you’ve lived in Oman, you have surely driven past the Council of Oman building in Al Bustan in the heart of old Muscat.
It is a truly magnificent building, stately and imposing, particularly at night, when the entire structure is lit up from below by a series of spotlights.
We’ve often pointed to that building, which has the same style as many of the structures that were built in the great Arab empires of yesteryear, and is a striking example of Omani architecture. Many of us might not know the name of this building as many of us do not know what goes on in there.
That building is called the Council building, and hosts the various councils of Oman – the Majlis Al Shura (also known as the Shura Council or Consultative Council), and the State Council, or Majlis Ad Dawla. The two of them, when they meet together, are called the Council of Oman, and advise the ministries and government bodies on how to best take the country forward by sharing with them the sentiments of the people, business, educational bodies and other organisations, based on the responsibilities assigned to the members of the councils.
While the members of the Majlis Ad Dawla are hand-picked by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, based on recommendations made to him, the Majlis Al Shura consists of 86 members drawn from the various Wilayats across the 11 governorates of the Sultanate of Oman. For this election, 40 female and 597 male candidates competed for a position on the council. Two female and 84 male members were elected to represent the country.
Recently elections were held to elect members for the 9th term of the Majlis Al Shura, which saw more than 300,000 Omanis across the country cast their vote. The government had planned for this event well in advance, having announced off days for all those who had come to vote on that day. In addition, those Omanis who lived overseas but still wished to vote could also do so beforehand, through a special app that had been launched for this occasion.
Voting began on October 27th, as early as 7am, with a view to finish the elections by 7pm. However, with a larger-than-expected turnout, voting went on until 9pm that night. Of the 713,335 voters who had registered for the Shura elections, 349,680 had come to vote, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior, a participation rate that exceeded 49 per cent.
Dr Khalifa bin Mohammed Al Hadhrami, the Vice President of the Supreme Court and Chairman of the Higher Committee for the Majlis Al Shura’s 9th term elections said, “I would like to express my satisfaction over the elections, which were conducted smoothly and easily in all Wilayats of the Sultanate.”
Talal bin Ahmed al-Sa’adi, Secretary of the Main Committee of Elections added, “In continuation of developing and deepening the approach of the Omani Shura Consultation, in line with the phases of the modern Omani development process, whose foundations were laid by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, which is based on the participation of citizens in the decision-making process, and in the formulation and guidance of national development at various levels, the electing of Majlis Al Shura members for the four-year ninth term (2020 to 2023) took place on Sunday, October 27. 2019”. He went on to say, “In a national partnership, characterised by ease, clarity and transparency, and with an awareness that enhances the Omani model of democratic action, voters across the good land of Oman, and in all the Wilayats of the Sultanate, have gone since 7am to cast their votes and to choose their Wilayats’ candidates for the ninth term of the Majlis A Shura”.
Voting machines deployed across 110 voting centres
Schools were closed on this day, with a 110 of them across the country serving as voting centres where people could vote for their chosen candidate. For the first time in the history of Shura elections, electronic voting machines (EVMs) were deployed across all of the centres to make it easier for people to vote, and for vote counting to be done in a quicker manner once voting had ended.
Talal bin Ahmed Al-Sa’adi furthered, “Omani and various media representatives from brotherly and friendly countries followed the voting in 110 polling stations. They also recorded live, and in various Wilayats, the significant turnout at the polling stations, throughout the voting hours, which extended from 7am to 9pm as the voting time was extended for two hours in all Wilayats of the Sultanate to absorb all voters.
“The elections of the members of the Majlis Al Shura for the ninth term also constituted another advanced step on the road of electronic development of the elections, making it smoother, faster and easier for all voters,” he added. “The e-voting provided the opportunity for the first time, for all Omani voters outside the country to cast their votes, wherever they are through the application of ‘distance voting’ via smart phones. The system was effectively applied on October 19th when Omani overseas voters, who completed the procedures for the ‘distance voting’ system, as well as members of the election committees and media workers, cast their ballots smoothly as planned.
Previously, Oman had set up voting centres in the capitals of the other five GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, but the presence of this electronic distance voting system meant that wasn’t necessary this time around. The results of those who had voted while overseas were also incorporated into the final count.
This electronic voting system was used across all stages of the Shura election, from the electoral registration of new voters who had reached the age of twenty-one and enjoy the right to vote, in accordance with the Elections Law of the Majlis A’Shura Members, issued by the Royal Decree No.58/2013 issued on 30/10/2013, in addition to those who have not previously registered due to voter relocation and changes in electoral headquarters, candidacy processes, announcement of lists of candidates and voters, as well as voting and sorting operations, in accordance with the rules prescribed by the law.
This e-registration and voting system, called ‘Sawtuk’ (Arabic for ‘your voice’) was developed by an Omani company and saw plenty of hard work put in to achieve the final product, which was also designed to allow those with disabilities to easily cast their votes. To cast their votes, the voter only needed to have his/her identity card valid when voting. The voting through the new machine takes just two minutes. It is also a fully secured device that allows polling committees at polling stations to assist the voter when needed.
Al Sa’adi said, “In the elections, 994 voting machines were distributed to 110 polling stations, including five unified voting centres in Baushar, Thumrait, Haima, Adam and Khasab, as Baushar, Thumrait and Khasab included a voting centre for females in each of them, which increased the number of unified voting centres to eight, in a bid to enable voters outside their Wilayats to cast their ballots easily and smoothly. All technical measures have been taken to ensure the smooth running of the election process, including the provision of backup equipment and technical support for any problem that may arise.
“It is known that the ‘Sawtuk’ device keeps information in case of emergency. The voting process went as planned despite it being extended for two hours in all Wilayats of the Sultanate,” he went on to add. “While the Supreme Elections Commission, headed by the Vice-Chairman of the Supreme Court, oversees the various stages of the election process, decides on appeals, if any, and ensures that the election process in accordance with the law, the Main Elections Committee, chaired by the Undersecretary of the Ministry of the Interior, prepared the key efforts for preparations for elections, coordination and cooperation with other stakeholders.
This delegation of duty comes within the framework of the tasks specified by the law to ensure the availability of all the organisational and logistical aspects necessary to complete the election process easily and without any interference in the voting process through the sub-committees, or interference in the counting process, which is conducted electronically and under judicial supervision.
“The Ministry of Interior, through the Main Elections Committee, and through the Ministerial Decisions issued by the Minister of the Interior, has ensured good organisation of the stages and provided full guarantees for its transparency,” added Al Sa’adi. “Therefore, thanks should be given to the various parties that contributed to the success of the elections.
Increase in turnout among candidate and voters alike
The recent Shura elections were a matter of pride for the country, as Omani citizens showed great awareness through their remarkable turnout. There was a 20 per cent increase in voter numbers compared to the elections of the eighth term in 2015. Their awareness was also manifested through the turnout of candidates who chose to run for the elections. The total number of candidates stood at 637, including 597 male and 40 female candidates. This means that the number of women candidates for the ninth term was almost doubled compared to the eighth term, which saw 21 women compete for a place on the Shura Council.
The qualifications of the candidates for the current period are as follows: 28 candidates are PhD holders, including 26 male candidates and two female candidates, 75 candidates are holders of masters degrees, including 67 male and eight female candidates, and 195 candidates are bachelor degree holders, including 185 male and 10 female candidates, 65 are holders of higher diploma certificate including 60 male 5 female candidates, and 274 were holders of the General Education Diploma, of which 259 were male candidates and 15 were female candidates.
It should also be noted that in the elections, there were female candidates in all the governorates of the Sultanate, with the exception of two governorates: Al Wusta and Musandam. The highest number of female candidates was in the Governorate of Muscat (20) and the Governorate of A’Dakhiliyah (6), which reflects the awareness of the Omani women and their keenness to participate in the national work.
The Secretary of the Main Committee of Elections also said, “As for the number of voters for the ninth period of the Majlis A’Shura, the total number was 713,335 voters, including 375,801 male voters and 337,534 female voters. The largest Wilayat in terms of the number of voters is the Wilayat of Salalah in the Governorate of Dhofar (40,444 male and female voters), followed by the Wilayat of A’Suwaiq in the Governorate of North Al Batinah (36,149 voters).
The lowest Wilayat in terms of the number of voters is the Wilayat of A’Sinainah in the Governorate of Al Buraimi (369 male and female voters), followed by the Wilayat of Muqshin in the Governorate of Dhofar (985) voters. The highest governorate in terms of the number of voters is the Governorate of North Al Batinah (144,719 male and female voters), followed by the Governorate of Muscat (102,104 male and female voters).
In terms of voters, Musandam (11,594 male and female voters) had the least number of registered voters, followed by the Governorate of Al Wusta (12,241 male and female voters). Voters elected 86 members of the Majlis Al Shura for the ninth term, one more for the Wilayat of Liwa compared to the eighth term.
How Wilayats are represented
Wilayat’s with a population of 30,000 and more have two Shura representatives, while a single member represents a Wilayat with a population of less than 30,000. Of the 61 Wilayats in the Sultanate, 25 have a population of more than 30,000 and 36 Wilayats have a population of less than 30,000.
The total number of voters who cast their votes in the ninth term elections stood at 350,581 with the participation exceeding 49 percent of registered voters. This included those Omani voters who lived overseas.
The highest participation rate was registered in Salalah, where 71 percent out of the total number of voters recorded in the electoral register of that Wilayat came to vote.
The Wilayat of Quriyat saw more female voters take part in comparison to males, with female participation reaching 51 percent. The Governorate of Al Wusta saw the highest turnout of voter participation compared to the rest of the Sultanate’s governorates, as the participation rate in the Governorate of Al Wusta reached 81.3 percent.
Al-Sa’adi said, “Two females won membership in the ninth term of the Majlis Al Shura elections as compared to one female in the past two terms. In light of the assurances taken by the Ministry of Interior and the Main Elections Committee and the judicial supervision of the elections through the Supreme Elections Commission, the members of the Majlis Al Shura elected, in effect, reflect the choices of Omani voters, their hopes for the ninth term of the Majlis Al Shura, and their discharge of their legislative and supervisory functions and powers as per the Legislative System promulgated by the Royal Decree (101/96) on November 6th 1996 and its amendments.
“Citizens’ choices are always respected by the government and various state institutions, within the framework of the integration of modern state institutions, established by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said,” he added.
“We would like to thank all those who contributed to the success of these elections, which are rooted in the Omani model of democratic practice, whether they are voters, candidates, officials and media from within and outside the Sultanate. We wish further progress and prosperity to our beloved Oman under the wise leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said.”
Ahmed bin Said Al-Shukaili, Assistant Attorney General of the Higher Committee said that his committee did not receive any complaints pertaining to the voting conducted, while Nasser bin Sulaiman al-Sibani, the Deputy Chairman of the Public Authority for Radio and Television (PART), Chairman of the Media Committee for the Elections praised the great turnout of voters towards casting their votes, which reflected the political awareness among individuals in Omani society.
“The voters were keen to practice their electoral right to elect their candidates to represent their Wilayats in the Majlis Al Shura,” he said.
“I would also like to highlight the participation of women in these elections, as two female candidates won seats on the council, which is a positive indicator towards the participation of women.”
First-time voters share their priorities
Tariq Ghaleb Al Kiyoumi, 25, Wilayat Seeb said: “I hope that the candidate I voted for – Badriya Hattaliya – would address the issues faced by society at large, because of my personal conviction over she being really capable of managing the sentiments in Seeb, and because she has the qualifications that make her good at her job.”
Mather Al Siyabi, 23, Wilayat Bidbid: “I chose Khalfan Al Siyabi because he has effective social communication with people. He is a modest person with good manners who has administrative experience can take up this responsibility with competence and honesty. We expected him to carry out several reforms and services.”
Working for people’s welfare: Shura Council members
Malik Al Yahmadi, Shura member, Wilayat Bousher: “I am very happy to gain the confidence of the voters in Wilayat Bousher and will not represent just the Wilayat, but all the people in the Sultanate in this mandate, and this success came as a result of continuous effort in my community over many years and I will strive to be at the behest of the voters.
Dr Fadhilah Al Rahili, Shura member, Wilayat Sohar: “Over the years we have seen an evolution in communities being increasingly accepting and more aware of the importance of women’s presence on the council, so men also voted for me, in addition to the women and we hope that women will have more presence among council members in the coming years.”
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