Qatar opens registration for polls set for October 2

Doha (AFP) –


Qatar opened candidate registration for its first legislative elections Sunday, AFP correspondents saw, announcing the much-delayed polls would be held on October 2 in a test of the autocratic nation's democratic credentials.

Elections to the 45-seat shura council, as proposed under a 2004 constitution, have been postponed repeatedly and its members have instead been directly named by the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Only descendants of Qataris who were citizens in 1930 will be eligible to vote and stand, disqualifying members of families naturalised since that year.

Some members of the sizable al-Murra tribe are among those who face being excluded from the electoral process, sparking a fierce debate online.

Experts have suggested that representatives of those groups excluded could be among those directly appointed by the emir.

It will take a super-majority vote of the new, elected shura council to amend the eligibility law and extend the franchise to include more recently arrived Qatari families.

"(A) decree stipulated that Saturday October 2, 2021 would be set as the date for electing members of the Shura Council," the emir's office said in a statement.

At Qatar University on the outskirts of Doha, mostly male would-be politicians filed into a hall to register their intention to stand in the election.

They will face scrutiny from the powerful interior ministry against a number of criteria including criminal and character checks, as well as verification of their claim to Qatari citizenship.

"I have been waiting for the elections for years," law graduate and election hopeful Lina Nasser al-Dafa told AFP.

"Nothing is difficult for women -- we are an active element in Qatar."

The registration process will run until Thursday, and campaigning is due to begin next month.

"Holding elections in Qatar gives me an opportunity to contribute to the service of this country, which has spent on my education up to Master's degree," said Lahdan bin Issa Hassan al-Muhannadi who is seeking to contest the northern Al-Khor and Al-Dhakhira constituency.

"This is one of the main landmarks in the history of Qatar."

The election has sparked a torrent of fake news on social media with the Arabic hashtag #BoycottQatarElections trending on Twitter, despite initially being posted by only one account, indicating manipulation.

Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani said that the polls, "the first in Qatar's history... must preserve national unity", according to the official Qatar News Agency.

Bureaucrats fear the vote could be exploited by Qatar's neighbours Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which they say have objected to Doha breaking ranks and holding elections.