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Oman Poll Implies Political Transition

A key election in Oman on Saturday is an indication that the Gulf state is on the path to a political transition, much like others states in the region, a Gulf-based analyst says.
Despite a large turnout of women in the election for Oman’s Shoura Council on Saturday, no women made it onto the council. But this is not necessarily a setback for women, says Dr. Christian Koch, director for international relations at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.
“Oman has been at the forefront in terms of women’s involvement in legislative matters and governmental affairs,” he told The Media Line.
Oman women were given the right to vote in 1994 and as of 1997, have also been able to stand for office.
None of the 21 women who competed for seats in the 85-member Shoura Council won a seat. The council previously had two female members.
The female candidates represented just over three percent of the total number of candidates.
The reasons no women got in are varied, Koch explains.
The low percentage of female candidates is a contributing factor, but also the nature of the society.
“There is still a very conservative Omani society and strong tribal affiliation that plays a role, so it’s quite difficult in that kind of system for women to make a name for themselves and get elected,” he says.
Oman’s legislative branch is divided into the 84-member Shoura Council, an advisory body that has a four-year term and an appointed state council with 58 members.
“The role of the Shoura Council remains primarily advisory,” Koch says. “It reviews legislation by the government and passes it on to the state council with any recommendations, so it plays a limited role. It’s not a legislative role in the typical sense that it can also propose legislation.”
Koch says the elections in Oman are part of an overall election process in the Gulf region and a continuation in the political development of the region.
“There’s a lot of political transition going on in the Gulf,” he says. “It’s not only the stereotypical image of Arab sheikhdoms, where we have an authoritarian state and where a ruling family has a say.”
The elections in Oman are just one example of an opening process, he maintains.
“I believe this will continue and lead to greater accountability, transparency and opening in the near future.”
The registration of voters rose by 100,000 compared with the previous elections in 2003, and the turnout was relatively high, at 63%.