Red carpet, prayers and kisses as Qataris go to the polls

Wed, 2021-09-29 00:03

AL-WAKRAH, Qatar: The modest crowd listens respectfully as TV actor Saeed Al-Burshaid gives his first stump speech ahead of Qatar’s inaugural legislative polls.

Burshaid gesticulates passionately as he builds to a crescendo in a nondescript and largely undecorated sports hall south of Doha, watched by a few dozen people sipping tea served by waiters.

“It’s our job to let them (voters) know, and to educate the people,” enthuses Burshaid, a minor celebrity in the Gulf who also previously ran Qatar TV’s drama department.

The Oct. 2 election is for 30 members of the 45-strong Shoura Council, a body that was previously appointed by the emir as an advisory chamber.

Burshaid’s laminated manifesto pledges action on both workers’ and women’s rights, issues for which the 2022 World Cup hosts have been criticized.

Burshaid praises the country’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and his 2030 development plan.

“The system — we want to make it more open, and also to discuss modern issues,” says Burshaid, who is wearing an immaculate white thobe and was ushered into the hall on a thick red carpet.

The Shoura will be allowed to propose legislation, approve the budget and recall ministers. But the all-powerful emir will wield a veto.

After a pre-event break for prayers, the speech by Burshaid, a candidate for the 14th district, goes ahead uninterrupted, with neither of his two rivals present.

Campaigning in the Arabian desert nation has been subdued for much of the 14-day period allotted for drumming up support.

There are 28 women among the 284 hopefuls running for the 30 available council seats. The remaining 15 seats will be appointed by the emir. Male voters at Burshaid’s segregated campaign event greet each other with customary kisses on the head.

Diplomatic sources suggest families and tribes have already conducted internal ballots to determine who will be elected for their constituencies.

Candidates will have to stand in electoral divisions linked to where their family or tribe was based in the 1930s, using data compiled by the then-British authorities.

Voter Nasser Al-Kuwari said he hoped people would not simply opt for those “closest to (their) family or friends.”

“I hope that we choose the right person in the right place,” he said.

The streets of Qatar’s towns have been speckled with billboards adorned with beaming candidates sporting Qataris’ ubiquitous national dress.

The constitution states only descendants of Qataris present in the country in 1930 are eligible to run or vote.

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