Qataris go to polls

© The Manila Times Saeed al-Burshaid, a candidate for Qatar’s inaugural Shura Council election, holds a campaign rally in al-Wakrah on September 19 KARIM JAAFAR AFP Saeed al-Burshaid, a candidate for Qatar’s inaugural Shura Council election, holds a campaign rally in al-Wakrah on September 19 KARIM JAAFAR AFP

DOHA: The modest crowd listens respectfully as TV actor Saeed al-Burshaid gives his first stump speech ahead of Qatar’s inaugural legislative polls, an unprecedented exercise in democracy in the resource-rich monarchy.

Burshaid gesticulates passionately as he builds to a crescendo in a nondescript and largely undecorated sports hall south of Doha, watched by a few dozen people sipping tea served by waiters.

“It’s our job to let them (voters) know and to educate the people,” enthuses Burshaid, a minor celebrity in the Gulf who also previously ran Qatar TV’s drama department.

The October 2 election is for 30 members of the 45-strong Shura Council, a body with limited powers that was previously appointed by the emir as an advisory chamber.

While it is a rare nod to democracy in the autocratic region, observers say this is no turning point for Qatar, and point out that it comes with heightened scrutiny on the country ahead of next year’s World Cup.

Burshaid’s laminated manifesto pledges action on both workers’ and women’s rights, issues for which the 2022 World Cup hosts have been criticized.

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