Muscat: With the first Municipal Council elections few weeks away registered voters have been urged to make best use of the opportunity and cast their votes.
Urging citizens to vote, Khalid Al Haribi political analyst and managing director, Tawasul, the global think tank says, "We have to see the big picture. We are in a crucial transition phase in the life of our nation. We are moving towards more participatory form of governance. Participation means that the individuals have to make more decisions. So it is our 'civic duty' to show that we understand our responsibility."
He feels that if the voter turnout is weak, it might give an indication that the public is not interested to move the nation to this new phase.
Around 1,636 candidates, including 49 women, will contest the elections scheduled for December 22 for a total of 192 seats in 11 governorates across the country. Campaign will end on December 20. Each wilayat will turn into an electoral district so there will be 61 elections districts to choose 192 council members.
Since the Sultanate consists of eleven governorates that have a total of 61 wilayats; there will be eleven Municipal Councils. The Municipal Council will consist of representatives of each wilayat according to the number of Omanis in the wilayat: two Municipal Council representatives will be elected to represent a wilayat with has no more than 30,000 Omanis, four representatives from wilayats with more than 30000 Omanis, and six representatives from wilayats with more than 60000 people.
For example, Salalah will have six representatives in Municipal Council of the Governorate of Dhofar because it has more than 600,000 Omanis.
Al Haribi explains that it is very important to participate in this election because Omanis need to show that as individuals they understand what phase the nation is going through.
"His Majesty is very keen on people taking national responsibility. He has been saying this since his first speech. The decision to hold elections is the ultimate form of engaging the public and so people must vote," says Al Haribi.
Establishing a Municipal Councils in the various regions have been a demand for many years, especially since the Governorate of Muscat was the only region in the Sultanate with a nominated Municipal Council consisting of senior government directors and community leaders.
The call for elected Municipal Councils gained momentum in the beginning of 2011 which led to issuing Municipal Council law promulgated by Royal Decree 116/2011, and its detailed executive regulations promulgated by Minister of Diwan of Royal Court decision 15/2012.
Worrying that the turnout may be poor despite the efforts of the Ministry of Interior, Al Haribi said, "the people should remember that Municipal Council will play a major role in what kind of services that will be available for the people. The Municipal Councils, which serve for four years, contribute to enhancing overall public sector performance as it opens the door to better informed, de-centralised and localised decision-making."
He added, "How present and future town planning should look like? Do we need more environmental impact assessment? What public facilities do our neighbourhoods need? These are only some of questions why you and I should voice our opinion by voting and engaging with Municipal Councils."
Al Haribi said the fact that most Municipal Council powers focus on offering opinions and recommendations within the state's national policies and development plans is an indication that this is another right step in the road of a thousand mile towards even more effective powers in the future.
"The powers to offer opinions and recommendations to the government should not by any means lead us to underestimate the significance of the elected officials and the issues in our neighbourhoods," he said.
Al Haribi also points out that while Majlis Al Shura will concentrate on national matters, local matters will be the responsibility of the local council.
"I am urging people to look around them, instead of complaining about the services now they have chance to improve the quality of life for themselves, their family and future generations," he says.
It may be noted that the voter registration process has ended but all who registered for the Majlis Al Shura elections and are above 21 are eligible to vote. There are over half a million registered voters.
Stressing that government needs people's opinion, Al Haribi says, "You can no longer be negative and our nation can't afford it. It is easy to complain and criticise. But it would help immensely if can reach the government through this proper channel."
Most of the candidates who are contesting the Municipal Elections are said to be above the age of 40 years. It is also believed that at least 30 per cent of them are former Majlis Al Shura candidates.
"That is good news because they have experience and know how to engage the public," says Al Haribi.
The chairperson of the Municipal Council will be either the Mayor or Chairman of the Municipality, as in the case of Dhofar and Muscat, or chosen by the Governor of each of the other Governorates. Each Municipal Council will also include government appointed directors representing relevant government units, in addition to two opinion makers. But all decisions would be through voting.
"There has been criticism that Municipal Council should not have representation from the government or shouldn't be chaired by government officials. I think at this stage of the development elected members would need the experience of the government and so it is important to have their presence," says Al Haribi.
The political analyst says post the Arab Spring, Oman serves as a model as to how to approach wider democratic participation.
"It could be argued that the Sultanate is emerging as the most stable Arab country, post Arab Spring, as His Majesty's swift and wise decisions contributed to the vision of a stable, moderate, and prosper nation. It has seen steady progress. If you see what has happened in the Arab region post Arab Spring, Oman was one of the first countries to have a fully elected parliament in 2011. We will also be the first country to have a fully elected municipal elections since the Arab uprising."
Assessing the situation, Khalid analyses why he feels Oman is the most stable country in terms of democracy. "Saudi Arabia will have its election in 2015, Egypt parliament has been dissolved (after 2011), Tunisia has not had their full elections yet, Kuwait cabinet has been dissolved and another elections are due in December. Qatar will have parliamentary elections in 2013. UAE has also elected its federal national council post Arab Uprising but it is partially elected. It is not fully elected, most members are nominated. So I believe that Oman serves as a model how to approach wider democratic participation," Al Haribi says.
To make the Municipal Council elections a huge success is every eligible citizens' responsibility.
"Remember to cast your vote, come what may. We should make use of information and technology to improve quality of our lives, therefore, we should learn about Municipal Councils through the official website www.mc.election.gov.om", concludes Al Haribi.