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Oman: Consultative Elections 2023

By Javier Guirado

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Oman: Consultative Council Elections 2023

This joint SEPAD-OPEMAM report reflects on the 2023 elections for Oman's Consultative Council.  

The 2023 Consultative Council election marked a significant milestone in the nation's political landscape as the first of its kind with Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said on the throne. His cousin Qaboos bin Said Al Said, had passed away in 2020 after governing the Sultanate of Oman for 50 years. The election was also novel as it was conducted entirely through a mobile app called Intikhab, reaching a notable turnout of 65.88%.

Oman is an absolute monarchy where the Sultan wields considerable authority across legislative, executive, and judicial spheres. The Consultative Council represents the main political institution that can channel citizen interests, and the only one elected through open elections. Only individual candidates can run for office, as political parties are not allowed. The election's significance lies not only in its pioneering digital form but also in its reflection of broader socio- political dynamics. It underscores a continuity with past bureaucratic norms while signaling the evolving aspirations and concerns of Omanis, but also their awareness about the limitations of the body, particularly in light of socio-economic challenges and calls for reform.

Against the backdrop of the Israeli invasion of Gaza and Oman's ongoing digitization efforts outlined in the Vision 2040, the election unfolded amidst a blend of geopolitical tensions and domestic aspirations for modernization. Vision 2040 aims at developing strategic sectors like digital infrastructure and green energy sources to diversify the Omani economy and make it more competitive in global markets. Yet, the transition towards digitization has been met with skepticism in certain sectors with concerns about the oversight of these digital tools, potential government surveillance, and the stifling of dissenting voices. Certain candidates were excluded from participating in the election by the governing committee, raising concerns regarding the fairness and transparency of the electoral process. Social media platforms emerged instead as a crucial and more open avenue for political grievance, especially among younger demographics and in contrast to the traditional outlets.

Higher participation in certain districts versus others highlights important differences in the political climate across the country; in the governorates of Dhofar and Sharqiyah South participation went beyond 80%. In the sparsely populated Wusta governorate it climbed to 90%. In contrast, in governorates like Dhahirah and Muscat the percentage remained closer to 50%. Further analysis of the results shows that participation among young voters was lower, suggesting less political engagement compared to older generations.

Moving forward, enhancing electoral transparency and fairness remains imperative, necessitating robust mechanisms for oversight and accountability. Addressing disparities in representation, fostering inclusivity, and ensuring open dialogue will be pivotal in fostering trust and confidence in Oman's electoral processes, aligning with aspirations for progress and democratic governance.

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