Qatar emir eyes polls, hails economy despite boycott
Doha (AFP) –
Qatar's ruler said Tuesday his gas-rich Gulf state has overcome the economic impact of a regional embargo and will be ready to hold its first national elections within two years.
In a speech to the Shura Council, Qatar's consultative policy reviewing chamber, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said preparations for the vote would be completed by 2022.
He did not say when polls would actually be held but the timetable for preparations suggested they could be staged ahead of the Qatar World Cup in November-December 2022.
The prime minister will "propose a timetable for the election of members of the Council and the date of elections will be announced once the (planning) committee is finished", the emir said, flanked by a military officer and wearing a traditional thobe outfit with gold trim.
Elections to the council, required under the country's 2004 constitution, have been postponed repeatedly and the body's members have instead been directly appointed by the emir.
The shura council advises the ruler on draft laws but does not create its own legislation and can be overruled by a simple decree.
Sheikh Tamim also said Qatar had overcome the "negative impacts" of the Saudi-led regional embargo enforced since June 2017 over claims that Doha backs militant Islamist movements and Iran, which it denies.
"As a result of the efforts to cut expenditure and increase efficiency, the big budget deficit in 2017 was turned into a surplus," he said in front of two large flags and the gas-rich country's crest.
"We have been able to restore the state reserves to levels higher than the pre-blockade levels."
Qatar reported a 39.99 billion riyal ($10.98 billion) budget deficit in 2017 -- the first year of the embargo -- according to official statistics, rebounding to a 15.08 billion riyal surplus in 2018.
Gross domestic product at current prices grew by 15 percent in 2018, the emir said, using an infrequently used measure.
The IMF has put Qatar's nominal GDP growth for 2018 at 1.5 percent, with 2.0 percent projected for 2019.
The country liquidated almost a quarter of its fiscal reserves to shore up its financial system in the immediate aftermath of the embargo.
Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have issued a raft of terms for Qatar to accept before the alliance lifts the embargo. The sanctions include a ban on direct air, land and sea trade.
Doha has refused to meet the demands which include the closure of its flagship state-run Al-Jazeera broadcaster.
Qatar has repeatedly insisted it is economically strong enough to withstand the crisis.
© 2019 AFP