Oman set for Majlis Ash’shura polls


The nucleus of the media effort for the October 27 vote will be a full-fledged Press Centre, to be set up at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here, featuring all the latest equipment, including fax and scanners and Internet services, Information Under-Secretary Shaikh Abdullah bin Shuwain Al Hosni told a news conference at the Press Club in Qurum on Sunday. More than 700 hopefuls, including 20 women, are contesting this time for the 83 Majlis seats from the 61 wilayats or districts in the country for a four-year term.

"We are committed to providing the media with all assistance they require," Shaikh Abdullah said, adding that many foreign journalists were expected to arrive here days before the election and stay on until the vote was over. He said the media committee for the ballot, of which he is the chairman, had finalised a programme under which teams of newsmen could visit voting stations around the country.

Facilitation centres would be set up for them in a number of wilayats, such as Rustaq, Musanah, Sohar, Buraimi, Khasab, Nizwa, Sumail, Ibri, Sur, Haima, Masirah and Salalah, he added. These centres, the Under-Secretary further said, would stay in constant touch with the nearby wilayats as well to enable the journalists to keep track of developments in those areas. He added the media committee had prepared comprehensive documents giving information on the election, candidates, voting centres and other related topics for the benefit of reporters.

A book on the history of elections in Oman has also been published. The objective of all these efforts, Shaikh Abdullah underlined, was to maintain a ‘steady flow of information’ for the journalists and through them the general public.

"With all the facilities we have put in place, the ministry is doing its best to facilitate exhaustive Press coverage of the elections," he said, adding: "We have invited members of the regional and international Press who will be taken to various voting places to see for themselves the election process."

He promised all reporters would be provided with Press packs containing information both in Arabic and English on the election and related issues. He said he was confident that the election would be ‘smooth’, adding that there would be real-time display screens at each of the voting centres.

Shaikh Abdullah urged the Press to be fair in their coverage and ensure that media men refrained from using their ‘power’ to unduly promote any particular candidate of contestants.

The main election committee has approved the names of 717 aspirants, of whom 20 are women, to stand for the election. In the last polls, in October 2003, 491 men and 15 women candidates, were in the fray. Wilayats or districts with more than 30,000 inhabitants will elect two members, while provinces with fewer people choose one member each. All nationals aged 21 and above, men and women, are qualified to vote and stand as candidates.

A total of 338,683 voters have registered for this year’s ballot, an increase of 50 per cent compared to the last election. In 2003, more than 800,000 people were eligible to vote. Some 260,000 citizens, including nearly 100,000 women, registered for voting, with over 70 per cent actually casting their votes.

There will be 102 voting centres in the various governorates and regions of the country. Muscat governorate will have 11 centres; Batinah 29; Musandam 7; Buraimi 4; Dhahirah 6; Dhakhliyah 11; Sharqiyah 17; Wusta 4; and Dhofar 13 for the October 27 ballot. In addition, there will be 11 centres at Oman’s embassies abroad — two in the UAE and one each in the other GCC countries, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Malaysia — where voting will take place a week earlier.

All voting stations within the Sultanate will be open from 7am to 7pm, while at Oman’s embassies in the GCC countries and in Amman, Cairo, Sanaa and Tunis, and its Commercial Representation Office in Dubai, voting will take place from 8am to 8pm on October 20. Voting hours will be 9am-9pm at the Sultanate’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, in interviews with local newspapers, Interior Minister Sayyid Saud bin Ibrahim Al Busaidi, the top poll official, said all measures had been taken to ensure that the election would be ‘free, fair and transparent’. He added that the latest IT tools would be used to ‘ensure smooth conduct’ of the polls, but ruled out using automatic voting and sorting machines this time.

Noting that "nobody is keen to tamper with the election process," he stressed that the use of modern technology and presence of candidates during opening of ballot boxes ‘will ensure fairness of the election’. Violators would be punished according to penalties prescribed in the Election Law, he added.

Sayyid Saud also made clear that Election Day would not be a holiday, but voters working in the government and private sectors would be given paid leave on the day.

He said preparations for the polls had been done according to international standards, and added that the entire process would be closely supervised. He pointed out that with the backing and support of highly developed new digital database, "there is no chance of tampering in any way. Election forms are printed with security descriptions and there is no way they can be tampered with. The ministry is also ready to overcome any undesired incident in addition to supervising the election process using screens at the voting centres."

Sayyid Saud said there was no chance of any rigging in the elections and ruled out inviting international observers. "With all the facilities we have put in place, there is no need to call international or special organisations in the field to oversee the process," he explained.



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