The executive power in the State of Qatar is held by the Emir, a hereditary position. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, came to the position in 1995, after deposing his father. A permanent constitution was approved by referendum on April 30, 2003 with 97% of the vote. The new constitution will bring vast changes to the electoral system. The Emir appoints the Advisory Council, a 45-member body that serves for four-year terms, to assist and advise the government. The Council has no official legislative powers. Members of the Advisory Council are selected from among landowners, farmers, and businessmen. There are no political parties in Qatar.
Election Laws, Systems and Processes
Since the beginning of Sheikh al-Thani’s reign, a series of reforms has drastically increased popular participation in the political process. Soon after taking office, the Emir signaled his intention to move Qatar in a democratic direction. The establishment of a popularly elected Municipal Council followed in March 1999. The 29-member Municipal Council, like the Advisory Council, serves only in an advisory capacity. Elections are open to all citizens of Qatar, both men and women, over the age of 18. Women can also participate as candidates in the elections, a fact which caught the attention of international observers and other states in the Gulf, and spurred similar reforms in other Gulf countries. The 2003 Constitution stipulates that electoral processes are to be established by law. It also establishes a 45-member Advisory Council with legislative powers, two thirds of which is to be popularly elected. Elections for the Advisory Council will presumably be held during 2009.
The Qatari consultative (Shoura) council has unanimously approved on May 19, 2008 a draft law for electing members of the Shoura council. The approval followed the cabinet's approval of the draft law that was written by the Higher Committee for Legislation Affairs headed by the prime minister. The 55 article draft law was submitted to the Council of Ministers in June 2007. This is the first Qatari draft law for electing members of the Shoura council. The elections are expected to take place in 2009 whereby 30 members will be elected by direct secret ballot, while the Emir will appoint the remaining 15 members.
The draft law is composed of several chapters: voters, voters’ registration lists, voting procedures, contesting election results, election crimes and general provisions.
The law restricted the right of voting to genuine Qatari citizens, i.e. unnaturalized citizens. This condition cannot be amended before the passage of 10 years since the date the constitution went into effect that is in June 2015. Other conditions pertaining to voters state that the voter should be at least 18 years old. Moreover, the law forbids the head and members of the election committee, government ministers, judges, armed and security forces personnel to run in Shoura council elections as long as they are in office or holding their jobs. To contest the validity of election or revoke the membership of an elected Shoura member, the law stipulates that the complaint should be filed at the electoral district in question within 7 days of declaration of election results. The complaint will then be examined by the appeals court whose decision is final and cannot be contested. Organizationally, the law provides that every electoral district will have an "election Committee" established by the Minister of Interior and headed by a judge. Registration for running in elections is opened at least 60 days prior to voting date.
The Preparatory Committee for the Municipal Elections (PCME) oversaw the 1999 municipal elections. The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) worked in conjunction with the Preparatory Committee to educate women voters and train potential female candidates. The IFES estimates that 70% of all voters who participated were women. Overall voter turnout, however, was not as high as initially expected, with about 22,000 votes cast, of 55% of eligible voters. The candidates campaigned in a variety of forums, including debates that were broadcast on Qatari television and radio. The city of Doha was host to numerous candidate speeches and rallies.
The third elections to the Municipal Council in Qatar took place on April 1, 2007. 28,153 citizens voted for 116 candidates, including 3 women, contesting 29 seats. The participation rate was 51.1%. The Ministry of Civil Service gave government employees a day-off to enable them to vote. Elections were conducted under judicial supervision. The National Human Rights Committee mobilized 4 teams to monitor the integrity of elections in 27 electoral districts. Two candidates were uncontested in their districts. One female candidate, Shaikha Al Jufairi, defeated her two male opponents by winning 90% of votes in her district. That was the second time that she won a municipal seat, although she was uncontested in the 2003 elections, when she became the first Qatari female to occupy such a position. The Municipal Council has no executive powers. Its powers are supervisory and advisory. The Council cooperates with the Ministry of Municipality in improving the standard of services of importance to citizens such infrastructure projects. Earlier elections to the Municipal Council took place in 1999 and in 2003. On April 7, 2003, 78 candidates contested 29 seats. In general, public enthusiasm for the elections was lower than in 1999. Voter turnout plummeted to around 30% of eligible voters, down from 55% in the previous elections.
A national referendum was held in Qatar on 29 April 2003 to approve Qatar's first written constitution that replaces the 1972 "Provisional Political Order". Voter turnout was around 84% and the constitution was approved with over 98% votes in favor. The new constitution provides for a Parliament composed of 45 members, 30 of whom will be elected in polls where women may stand and vote. The remaining 15 will be appointed by the Emir who also appoints the Prime Minister and the Cabinet ministers. The proposed legislature will be able to question ministers and subject them to votes of no-confidence, but the Emir retains the power to dismiss Parliament. The latter will have a four-year term and the power to legislate and vote on the budget. The 150-article Constitution also envisages the establishment of a separate judiciary.