Oman - Government
Citizens lack the right to change the leadership of their government by election. Sultan Qaboos bin Sa'id rules with the aid of his ministers. His dynasty, the Al Sa'id, was founded about 250 years ago by Imam Ahmed bin Sa'id Al Bu Said. Sultan Qaboos is a direct descendant of the 19th century ruler, Sa'id bin Sultan, who first opened relations with the United States in 1833. Since his accession in 1970, Sultan Qaboos has balanced tribal, regional, and ethnic interests in composing the national administration. The Council of Ministers, which functions as a cabinet, consists of 30 ministers (but only 28 ministries), all directly appointed by Qaboos. The sultan has the sole authority to amend the country's laws through royal decree, although ministries draft laws and citizens provide input through the 84-member Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council), an elected advisory institution.
The Sultanate has neither political parties nor legislature, although the bicameral representative bodies provide the government with advice. The bicameral Majlis Oman's mandate is to review legislation pertaining to economic development and social services prior to its becoming law.
In November 1991, Sultan Qaboos established the Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council), which replaced the 10-year-old State Consultative Council, in an effort to systematize and broaden public participation in government. Representatives were chosen in the following manner: Local caucuses in each of the 59 districts sent forward the names of three nominees, whose credentials were reviewed by a cabinet committee. These names were then forwarded to the Sultan, who made the final selection. Since then, reforms have permitted Omanis to freely run for office in contested elections featuring universal adult suffrage.
The Majlis A’Shura has a number of tasks which its members must perform:
- To review all draft economic and social legislation as prepared by the various Ministries before such legislation is enacted
- To put forward proposals as the Majlis sees fit in the domain of upgrading economic and social laws in the Sultanate.
- To voice opinions on issues of public policy which the government may bring before the Majlis and to make suitable proposals in this regard.
- To take part in the preparation of the country’s development plans and monitor their execution within the framework of the State’s general strategy and available sources.
- To participate in the raising of public awareness of the aims, tasks and priorities of development and the efforts being expended to achieve it, so that the nature of the needs and aspirations of a region be known and the bonds between people and government be strengthened.
- To participate in campaigns to conserve the environment and to protect it against the ill effects of pollution.
- To review issues relating to public utilities and amenities and to suggest ways of upgrading and increasing the efficiency of these services.
- To examine obstacles which might stand in the way of trade and enterprise and to suggest suitable ways of overcoming such obstacles.
- To voice an opinion on various other matters which the Sultan chooses to bring before the assembly.
His Majesty has decreed that women may become members of the Majlis A’Shura and the 2000 nominees had a 30% representation by women. This is an unprecedented move, not only for Oman, but for the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. The participation of women in A’Shura and in holding other senior positions in, for example, the Omani Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Planning Board, reflects the Sultan’s desire to see working women gaining the trust and respect of the population.
“We call upon Omani women everywhere, in the villages and the cities, in both urban and Bedu communities, in the hills and mountains, to roll up their sleeves and contribute to the process of economic and social development…We have great faith in the educated young Omani women to work devotedly to assist their sisters in their local communities to develop their skills and abilities, both practically and intellectually, in order to contribute to our Omani Renaissance which demands the utilization of our entire national genius, for the realisation of our country’s glory and prosperity. We call upon Omani women to shoulder this vital role in the community and we are confident that they will respond to this call.”
In early 2003, Sultan Qaboos declared universal suffrage for the October 2003 Majlis al-Shura elections. Two women were elected to sit with 81 male colleagues in those elections, which were observed to be free and fair. Roughly 194,000 Omani men and women, or 74% of registered voters, participated in the elections. Elections were held again in 2007.
The appointed Majlis al-Dawla (State Council) acts as the upper chamber in Oman's bicameral representative body. As of 2005, Sultan Qaboos had expanded the Majlis al-Dawla to 59 members from 53, including nine women.
The country is divided into 61 administrative districts (wilayats), presided over by appointed executives (walis) responsible for settling local disputes, collecting taxes, and maintaining peace. Most wilayats are small in area, but can vary considerably in population. The 61 wilayats are divided into eight regions. Four of those regions (Muscat, Dhofar, Musandam, and Buraimi) have been accorded a special status as governorates. The governors of those four regions are appointed directly by the Sultan and hold Minister of State or Under Secretary rank. Walis, however, are appointed by the Minister of Interior.
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