On April 16th, Qatar held its sixth session of elections for the Central Municipal Council. The most recent round of elections featured a total of 85 candidates, aiming to represent a total of twenty-seven out of twenty-nine districts. Two of the districts had already been decided through acclimation (unanimous consent). It was estimated that the participation rate in this election reached 50%. In order to participate in the elections, voters must fulfill three main conditions – be 18 years or older, born in Qatar or have been nationalized for 15+ years, and possess no criminal record. However, if one is a member of the military or law enforcement, they are not eligible to vote.
During this election season, several women faced off against men vying for council seats. Many candidates ran public campaigns, employing social media, advertisements, and other means to gain votes during a highly competitive election. The participation of women, in a mostly conservative society, marks a stark difference between Qatar and its regional neighbors. Since 1999, the year in which the first election for the municipal council was held, women in Qatari society have been further integrated into governing and building the nation.
In the most recent round of election, two women won seats on the 29-member municipal council. The first, Fatima al-Kuwari, represents the 9th district, which covers Al- Thumama, Ras Bufontas (North), and Mesaimeer (North). Fatima initially ran an unsuccessful first attempt in 2011. However, in 2015, Fatima was able to win the majority of her constituents’ votes. Fatima al-Kuwari is also represented among Qatar-America Institute’s, Zubara Council, where she serves as an advisor on Qatari affairs.
The second candidate that won her district, for the third time, is Sheikha al-Jafari, who represents the 8th district that covers the ad Dawhah municipality. She stated in an interview that “There was a large turnout by women and the number of female voters in my constituency exceeded the number of males, which indicates their political awareness…I wish there were more women but I tell them do not despair and continue to fight.”
The remaining women that were unable to gain a seat on the council were Aisha Saqer Saleh Mohammed al-Kaabi (district 18), Fatima bin Yousef al-Ghaza (district 10), and Maryam al-Humaidi (district 25).
The municipal council will be responsible for maintaining municipal affairs, dictating priorities of maintenance and construction of infrastructure, and overall adherence to Qatar’s legal system. Furthermore, members of the municipal council must be well informed and are mandated to examine proposals and legislation in order to provide effective policy proposals to the executive branch of Qatar’s government. Council members are also mandated to give time to their constituents and provide a forum for them to address any grievances.