x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sultan of Oman orders proposals to make country more democratic

Oman's partially elected consultative council told to propose constitutional amendments that would give it a greater voice in running the country's affairs.

MUSCAT // Amid continuing pro-reform street protests and labour strife, the Sultan of Oman yesterday made his biggest concession yet, directing the country's partially elected consultative council to propose constitutional amendments that would give it a greater voice in running the country's affairs.

The 154-member Council of Oman will have 30 days to propose the amendments, which will "give it legislative powers for the benefits of the people and progress," Sultan Qaboos bin Said declared in a royal decree, the official Oman News Agency reported.

The council is made up of a Shura Council elected by eligible Omani voters and a State Council appointed by Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Its powers are limited. Currently, only the sultan and his cabinet empowered to make laws.

In a further move to assuage the anger of Omanis fed up with unemployment, low-wage jobs and rising prices, the sultan, who has ruled Oman for 40 years, ordered a 50 per cent increase in benefits to pensioners and 100 per cent increase to the unemployed and Omanis unable to work.

The protests that have shaken Oman in the past two weeks continued yesterday, as demonstrators yesterday burned government offices in the northwest town of Ebri, 350 kilometres northwest of Muscat, after officials refused to listen to their demands, witnesses said.

"About 100 to 200 people went crazy and burned the wali office and the commerce ministry building," said an employee for the Ebri branch of the National Bank of Oman. "Apparently they just wanted clarifications on the jobs available to them, but officials could not provide a definite answer."

In other labour actions, workers at nationwide offices of Oman International Bank and the Oman Investment and Finance Company went on strike yesterday, demanding better wages, more training and allowances, and longer maternity leave.

The sultan's decree paving the way for constitutional reform was praised by Omanis who have been protesting daily outside the headquarters of the Shura Council. They said it would pave the way for an elected cabinet.

"We welcome the news. This is our prime condition - to have elected members of the Shura Council to have their say in the running of the government," said Qais Al Battash, a protester.

Supporters of the popularly elected Shura Council celebrated last week when the sultan fired ten ministers in his cabinet and replaced five of them with council members. Yesterday, they expressed cautious optimism.

"This is definitely working out to our advantage towards democracy. However, it is too soon to celebrate until we see the results of the [council's] recommendation," said Hamza Saif, another protester.