Omani activists claim seats in election
Muscat, October 16, 2011
Three activists who participated in protests in Oman earlier this year were elected to the Sultanate's 84-member consultative Shura Council, raising hopes that calls for reform will be heeded by a more empowered council.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said responded to the unrest in February with promises of reform and handouts and gave the council some legislative and regulatory powers for the first time.
The election of former protesters such as Salim Al-Mashani, who had been detained during demonstrations in the southern port city of Salalah in February, were praised by activists.
"That means the people were fully behind the protests and they want their voices heard democratically," Saif Al-Muharbi, another former protester in Muscat, told Reuters.
Voter turnout was higher than expected, with 76 percent of the nearly 520,000 registered voters casting ballots on Saturday. Few had expected a voting rate higher than the 28 percent seen in 2007, given low turnouts in recent elections in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.
Five people were killed in February's protests, which erupted in the industrial town of Sohar after uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Mainly young protesters demanded higher salaries and an end to graft in Oman.
After the unrest, Sultan Qaboos promised a $2.6 billion spending package and 50,000 public sector jobs. He also reshuffled his cabinet three times to sideline powerful but unpopular figures.
One woman, Nu'amah bint Jamayel Al-Busaidi, was also elected to the council, which the government said was a disappointing result.
"It is very unfortunate that only one woman was elected but we must respect the results because voters had their say yesterday," the Interior Ministry Undersecretary Mohammed bin Sultan al-Busaidi, who also heads the electoral committee, told reporters.
Women were given the right to vote in 2003, when two female candidates were elected to the Shura Council.
Not all Omanis saw the election in a positive light, saying that the rest of the results reflected a society that at its core remains fundamentally tribal. Some complained that tribal favouritism made citizens vote for candidates due to family links. - Reuters
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