Qatar’s first elections since 2017 reveal unexpected impact of GCC crisis

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani speaks to the country’s consultative Shoura council in Doha, Qatar, November 6, 2018. Qatar News Agency

Qatari citizens took to the polls on April 16 to select members of the country’s only elected deliberative body, the Central Municipal Council (CMC). The CMC is a 29-member assembly that advises authorities on local affairs but does not possess legislative or executive powers. The elections were the sixth since the establishment of the CMC in 1999, and the first since the June 2017 blockade of Qatar by neighboring Arab states.

The ongoing diplomatic crisis among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) lent special significance to last week’s elections. The economic and political embargo led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates prompted unprecedented mobilization among ordinary Qatari citizens in support of the state, defying concerted efforts by the blockading countries to undermine the legitimacy of the political leadership. As such, public interest in the elections can be viewed as one test of whether the increased popular participation witnessed since June 2017 is likely to translate into the political arena proper.

Neighboring Bahrain, for instance, provides a cautionary example. In 2011, a Shiite-led mass uprising precipitated Sunni counter-movements that initially aimed to defend the state against revolution, but later morphed into populist groups and then institutionalized parties that began articulating political demands of their own. Fearful that these potent new actors would find success in Bahrain’s first parliamentary elections after the uprising in November 2014, the government hastily redrew electoral boundaries and engaged in other measures to undermine their candidates, who did not win a single seat.

The results of Qatar’s 2019 municipal council elections, however, paint the opposite picture. Official figures show that the number of citizens who voted declined by 9% compared to the last elections in 2015, from 14,670 to only 13,334 — roughly 1 in 13 Qatari adults — in 2019. Such turnout suggests a Qatari citizenry that is slightly less engaged in the formal political process in the wake of the GCC crisis.

Source: Al-Monitor