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Lone woman elected to Oman council

A lone woman won election to Oman's 84-member Majlis Al-Shura consultative council, one more than in the all-male outgoing council

AFP , Sunday 16 Oct 2011
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Seventy-seven women had been among the 1,133 candidates standing in Saturday's elections for the currently toothless council, which Sultan Qaboos has pledged to vest with some powers in response to unprecedented social unrest.

Neema Jamil al-Bussaidi won election in the Seeb district of Muscat province,  according to provisional results released on Sunday. There had been no women in the outgoing council and only two in the previous one.

Turnout in Saturday's election reached 76.6 per cent, with 397,000 out of 518,000 eligible voters taking part, electoral commission chief Mohammed bin Sultan al-Bussaidi told reporters. "It is a good indication of the success of the vote," he said.

Oman, a non-OPEC oil producer, in 1994 became the first Gulf Arab state to give women the right to vote and stand for public office. The council, which was created in 1991, has the authority to question ministers and advise the government on socio-economic issues but has no legislative power or role in defence, internal security or foreign policy matters.

The sultanate also has an all-appointed Council of State, a 57-seat upper chamber, which, with the Majlis, makes up a Council of Oman. Political parties remain banned.

Earlier this year, the normally peaceful sultanate was caught up in the protests sweeping the Arab world, with demonstrators taking to the streets in late February to demand improved living conditions.

In the northern city of Sohar, two demonstrators were shot dead in confrontations between police and protesters. At the start of March, Sultan Qaboos announced a cabinet reshuffle and the creation of 50,000 jobs. Demonstrators insisted their protests were aimed at "corrupt" officials and not at Qaboos, who has ruled for 41 years.

Qaboos has also decreed a monthly allowance for registered job-seekers and a higher minimum wage for Omani private sector workers.

Elections are becoming more frequent in the Gulf, as Arab monarchies take tentative steps towards meeting demands for reform. But only Kuwait and Bahrain have elected parliaments.

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