The head of the Sultanate of Oman is Sultan Qaboos, who has held the position since 1970. Since his accession, a number of political reforms have taken place, gradually increasing and expanding the role of elected representatives in the government. Despite the growing presence of such officials, the legislative process is still considered to be the domain of the Sultan. The current parliamentary body serves in an advisory capacity.
The first incarnation of the Omani advisory council was formed in 1981 by royal decree. This body, the State Consultative Council (Majlis al Istishari lil Dawlah) originally had 43 members, but this number was enlarged to 55 in 1983. The members were appointed by the sultan and represented regional and governmental interests. In 1991 a sixty-member Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shoura) replaced the State Consultative Council. The Basic Law, issued in November 1996 by Sultan Qaboos, further elaborated this body. The Basic Law instituted a bicameral parliament, consisting of an upper chamber, the Council of State (Majlis Ad-Dawla), and a transformed lower chamber, the Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shoura). The Sultan appoints the former body, while the 82 members of the latter chamber are elected by limited suffrage for three-year terms. Candidates are elected from 59 multi- and single-member electoral districts by majority vote. Districts with population exceeding 30,000 have multiple representatives. The Sultan retains final authority over the election process. In addition to making all final selections of representatives, the Sultan can also invalidate election results.
Election Laws, Systems and Processes
The 1996 Basic Law, considered to be the equivalent of a constitution, does not specify the lengths of tenure, manner of election, procedural rules, or specific functions of the two chambers of the Omani legislature. The Basic Law states that all of these are to be decided by law. Complaints about the elections are to be presented to the Main Election Committee within five days of election time. Political parties are not permitted. The age requirement for voters during the 1997 elections was 30, but was lowered to 21 during the 2000 elections. Prior to 2003, all voters and candidates had to be approved by the government in order to register, and Omanis living abroad could not vote. The Sultan issued a decree removing these restrictions for the 2003 elections, extending suffrage to all Omani nationals over 21 years of age.
Elections are organized by the Main Election Committee, one of the committees of the Consultative Council, consisting of 12 members. The judiciary guarantees the fairness of elections. The Nationality and Elections Affairs Section of the Ministry of the Interior holds authority over elections and electoral processes, and the Sultan has the authority to annul election results.
The latest legislative elections in Oman took place on October 27, 2007. The number of registered voters was 388,683 out of a population of 1.7 million. The number of candidates was 631, including 21 women. International observers were not invited because there was “no reason to invite them” according to the minister of interior Saud Bin Ibrahim Al-Bousa’idi. However, 92 journalists from Arab and foreign countries covered the election process. Participation rate was 62.7%. Candidates ran in elections in their own personal capacity, rather than on the grounds of political, economic or social electoral programs.
In the previous elections of October 4, 2003, 509 candidates, 15 of whom were women, had competed for the 83 seats of Oman's Consultative Council, which were then distributed over 59 provinces. Out of 800,000 Omanis eligible to vote, 262,000 registered to vote, and 74% of those, or 194,000, actually voted. 95,000 women registered to vote in the elections. Vote counting and announcement of election results was entrusted to the judiciary. Omani citizens living in Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and United Arab Emirates participated in the elections in absentia. Incumbents won one-quarter of the seats in the council. The two female members of the council were among those re-elected.