Oman's elections bring hopes, doubts of institutional change
Sultan Qaboos bin Said promised to bestow new powers on the nation's assembly to tamp down Arab Spring protests, but ahead of Oman's elections tomorrow, those powers remain undefined.
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Skepticism about the assembly
Until the majlis is given the new powers promised by the sultan, the majlis doesn’t hold explicit power; its authorities include the ability to question government ministers and review government policy. Political parties are banned in Oman and individuals run independently for various districts around the country.Skip to next paragraph
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Murshid Al-Harthy, a university student, said the effectiveness of the majlis depends upon the motives of the members.
“It depends on candidates [being] willing to push themselves,” he says. He adds that he won’t vote because he doesn’t know enough about the candidates.
Hamdan Al-Siyyabi, a soldier, is more optimistic about the majlis’ actions.
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“It brings your voice to the government,” he says. He is prohibited from voting as are all Omanis who work in a security or defense-related field.
He would vote if he could, adding that it has become necessary for everyone to participate as the council gains the yet-unknown powers.
However, though the majlis is theoretically charged to act as an intermediary between the people and the government ministers, without real legislative power there is no mechanism to ensure the members' accountability.
“They move demands directly to higher levels. They take some of the demands, but not all of it,” said Rashid, a Ministry of Defense employee who declined to have his full name published.
The protests earlier in the year focused on lack of jobs, but also touched on inflation, low salaries, corruption, and political reform. The government responded with measures funded by an aid package from the Gulf Cooperation Council. Since then, the sultan promised to create 50,000 jobs, a promise that is still being fulfilled. He also created an unemployment benefits system.
Now, many Omanis said the main issue affecting the country was not jobs but the prices of basic necessities – something that many say is not necessarily even the majlis’ responsibility.
“The issue is prices. But the economy around the world is like that,” says Abu Ahmad, a government employee who is not permitted to vote.
“Everyone is affected [by the global economy]. We are not isolated,” adds Mr. al-Siyabbi, the soldier.
Beyond prices, Omanis only expressed other practical concerns, such as traffic issues, lack of road regulation, the excess free time of the youth, and the difficulty in receiving promotions in governmental jobs.
But Dr. al-Khadory noted there is a risk that the government’s aid-reliant moves are only staving off the issues of seven months ago.
“There is a time problem," he says. "Maybe the problems will increase in the future.”