By Hassan Abdulrahim Al-Sayed
A matter of weeks separate us from June 30, 2013, the date set by Emiri declaration (number 18 for the year 2010), for the current term of the appointed Advisory Council to end.
Will it be renewed for another term? Or will we actually witness legislative elections this year, years after the law stipulating the need for elections and the institutionalization of them was issued?
Article 46 of the Amended Provisional Constitution stipulated in 1972 - some 40 years ago - that a legislature would be launched through direct elections after the end of the term of the first Advisory Council. At the end of that term, it was decided the appointed council would remain in office for an additional year, as per article 46 of the same law.
As the end of that year – 1973 – approached, however, that article was used to extend the appointment of the assembly for another three years. This scenario repeated itself, and towards the end of 1975, when the Advisory Council was due to end its term, lawmakers once again stunned citizens with another revision of the law that extended the appointment of the council in assembly for a further six years.
Following those two revision, there was a number of Emiri decrees that prolonged the appointment of the council without conducting actual revisions to article 45, making use of the provision in that article that “extending the council’s term is permitted if it is found to be in the public’s best interest”. Thus, decrees were issued in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1995, 1998, 2004, 2007, 2008 and finally in 2010 to extend the parliament’s appointment till June 30, 2013.
Despite the number and recurrence of these decrees, the exact public good that was being protected was never specified to the very public in whose best interest the extensions were claimed to have been made.
On November 16, 1998, His Highness the Emir gave a speech to inaugurate the 27th term of the Advisory Council, saying, “it is high time to improve our constitutional system.”
“[This goal] will enhance the state’s legislative, executive and judicial authorities, enabling them to excel in performing their respective duties; it will also raise the public sector’s performance to offer quality services to the citizens and accelerate the developmental process of the country, in addition to deepening our experience in encouraging the public to participate in outlining the political future of our homeland”.
His Highness continued:
“For this very purpose, we have decided to appoint a committee of specialized and efficient individuals to write a permanent constitution for Qatar, the basic principles of which will stipulate the launching of an elected parliament through direct, public vote, which will aid us in laying down public participation as integral to the foundation of our rule.”
On November 18, 2003 and during the opening session of the 32nd term of the Advisory Council, His Highness delivered his inaugural speech, pointing out:
“The most important event on our domestic scene, since we met last year, is the referendum conducted to find out the public opinion on the project for a permanent constitution for the country; the referendum showed a sweeping agreement to this project, which means that it is hopefully going to meet the expectations of our citizens for the building of a state run by institutions with full separation between the different branches of government, emphasizing that the new elected parliament is integral to that goal, also demonstrating that our citizens implicitly accept the principles of the constitution”.
And in April 14th, 2004 during the opening of the Fourth Doha Forum for Democracy and Free Trade, the Emir pointed out:
“Qatar has come a long way on the path to enforcing political public participation, which was embodied in last April’s referendum that showed the public appreciation of a constitution to protect rights and liberties, build autonomous institutions, enforce the rule of law and pave the way for parliamentary elections that guarantee the participation of the public in forming the assembly that will represent them, which will enhance the concept of civic engagement”.
The aforementioned series of Emiri speeches clearly indicate that in 1998, the year of His Highness’s first speech, the Emir believed that it was high time for laying the groundwork for real public participation through the writing of a permanent constitution that principally stipulated the foundation of an elected legislature; and that His Highness also believed that building a state run by institutions with full separation between the different branches of government was not only an Emiri aspiration but one that united the entire Qatari nation.
The Emir insisted that public participation encapsulated in electing a legislature was the corner stone of the new constitution, stating that in the very near future (his 2004 speech) Advisory Council elections would be conducted.
The Emiri conviction that democracy, an elected legislature and public participation were vitally important in forming the Qatari political decision process was not just publicized within the country, but was openly discussed by the Emir himself at the 59th United Nations General Secretary Meeting on September 11, 2004.
It was then that His Highness said:
“Political reform and the inclusion of citizens in the decision-making process are not luxury items that we can do without, but utmost necessities, since it has been made clear through our international relations that the countries that achieved economic excellence are the ones that are keen on the pursuit of democracy whether they are countries from the North or the South”.
This indicates how deep the Emir’s belief is that democracy is the way to excellence and that the countries that suffer economically or socially do so primarily because of a lack of democracy.
A permanent constitution
In 1999, a committee was formed to outline the project for the new constitution announced the year before. It took that committee three years to finish its work, submitting the constitution in 2002 for it to be a drawer hostage for a year before the public was asked to vote for or against it in a referendum in 2003.
It was a drawer hostage again for over a year before it was issued in 2004, and then stalled for a third year before being published in 2005; finally seeing the light after seven years of its inception in 1998.
Despite these seven years, the constitution did not come into force in its entirety, as a third of its articles that are directly related to the elected Advisory Council were not implemented, according to article 150 of the constitution. Seven whole years after putting the constitution in action and this part of it is still dealt with in a clandestine manner, in spite of how His Highness described it as the “corner stone” of the constitution.
Finally, at the beginning of November 2011, the Emir announced in his inaugural speech of the 40th term of the Qatari Advisory Council that he decided that the legislative elections would be conducted during the second half of 2013.
Here we are now approaching the end of the first half of the year. Will the second half of the year witness the legislative elections, when the law organizing these elections has not even been issued yet? The electoral directory and list of constituencies have not even been prepared.
We sincerely hope that the second half of this year will witness direct public elections and if this does not happen, then we have the right to raise the question of who is it exactly that is postponing the realization of the Emir’s dreams for the democratic future of the country? Who exactly is standing between the Qatari people and their aspirations, which are encouraged and supported by the Emir?
The author: Dr. Hassan Al-Sayed is an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at Qatar University.
Editor’s note: An Arabic version of this article first ran in Al Sharq newspaper, and has been translated and published with the author’s permission.
Credits: Translation by Riham Shebl. Photo by Omar Chatriwala. Hat tip to Noora Alsaad.