OMAN MOVES TO FULL DEMOCRACY

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Zahid Malik

Saturday, January 19, 2013 – Democracy in essence is to take people along. Democratic form of government is, therefore, supposed to be the best possible choice. It is so because leadership and the people are believed to be, by and large, on the same page. Though democracy, according to my analysis, is going to decline the world over in the days to come but at present it is the buzzword. However, in my view, democracy in any country has to grow from its own soil.

Democracy cannot be, and should not be, transplanted. In fact, it cannot be transplanted as a mango tree cannot be transplanted in a hilly/snowy area. Unfortunately, when some pseudo-intellectuals and self-styled torch-bearers of democracy and human rights etc start comparing democracy in their own countries with the Western democracies, it gives birth to problems of all sorts including instability. Democracy has many forms, shapes and colours and it takes roots in a country if it grows from that soil.

The Sultanate of Oman where though the head of the government is a Monarch yet it was/is a true democracy in all forms and manifestations. Each and every day witnesses more pragmatic initiatives by HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said towards deepening and widening the roots of democracy in Oman. While I will be writing about the outcome of the recently conducted fairest possible Municipal Council elections which I witnessed during my visit to Oman a bit later but first I would briefly mention that even before the launch of the MC elections, a unique sustainable mechanism of people’s participation in the decision-making at the highest level was very well in place.

The HM, a God-fearing, soft spoken and humble person by temperament, was already in touch with the people of Oman on a permanent basis. It was/is an annual feature of the HM to undertake meet-the-people country-wide tours and personally meet the people in the far flung areas and have a direct interaction with the tribal elders. In terms of population and geography, Oman is a small country having just 2,846,145 local people and 309,500 km area. The HM being a master communicator and a keen listener as well meets numerous delegations from various segments of society during his tour of different Villayats affording the people an opportunity to open their hearts and talk to him directly. He encourages a free and frank interaction. It can, therefore, be said that he is the most well-informed ruler having his fingers on the pulse of the people.

Then the institutions Majlis-e-Daula (Upper House) and Majlis Ash’shura (Lower House) consisting of representatives, some directly appointed by the HM but mostly duly elected by the people of Oman are in place. One gets fascinated to witness the proceedings of these two Houses where all issues and public welfare-related and development programmes are brought under discussion. I happened to listen to the proceedings of these Houses in the past. But now the holding of the Municipal Council elections which I observed in Muscat during my four-day visit to Oman on December 20-24 was a new experience not only in the history of Oman but in the entire Gulf region. The Sultanate took a big leap forward and introduced a democratic system stemming from the people’s confidence in the Municipal Councils and their ability to address various problems and challenges being faced by various Villayat themselves.

I saw jubilant crowds of people casting votes in favour of their candidates with a sense of pride. Comparatively more enthusiasm was seen among women voters at exclusive women polling stations and all this was also a surprise to me. My interaction as an observer with some of the candidates and the Walis of various Villayats was a sheer pleasure as it was reflective of enthusiasm and deep interest of the people in the Oman-tailored MC elections. With conducting of the country-wide Municipal elections, Oman emerges as a State which has introduced democracy complete in all respects and aspects.

Under Municipal Election laws, any citizen of Oman, aged 30, is eligible to stand as a candidate providing an opportunity tothe successful one for managing civic affairs themselves. Indeed, having held MC elections, Oman is ahead of many Arab and African States. I wish if those Arab/African States which have witnessed Arab Spring leading to turmoil, chaos, bloodshed and uncertain course could have deflected the heavily loaded agendas of all sorts if the people’s democratic aspirations were realized and duly addressed well in time. It requires a lot of maturity and far-sightedness to move along with time and pre-empt the possible upheavals and pitfalls of all sorts.

Oman being an island of peace and tranquility and having cordial working relationship with all States has now taken yet another lead. I was particularly impressed by the mature comments of the visiting journalists who were invited by the Ministry of Information of Oman from various countries appreciating the cause of democracy being promoted in the Sultanate. The essence of these comments was that democracy in any country has to suit the genesis of the people and thus the Municipal Elections have been masterly tailored to suit the people of Oman. After the successful conduct of these elections, the Sultanate is set securely on the highway to progress. The HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said who from international affairs to military science and strategy, ecology, fine arts, politics of his country and the region and the world has taken another major step which will certainly promote national dignity. The fuller democracy coupled with “Omanization” which means gradual and systematic reduction of the country’s dependence upon others for national service at home augurs well for the people of Oman.

I may also briefly say that one of the future challenges to Oman would be the fuller projection of the leadership and the State within the Sultanate and abroad. It requires multi-pronged strategy to take people along. I am satisfied that in this regard too Oman is on the right trajectory. The incumbent Information Minister, Dr. Abdulmonam Mansoor Al-Hasani, an expert in Mass Communication and the Under-Secretary Mr. Ali bin Khalfan al Jabri, a career publicist, are accomplished mass communicators. As an editor who had been Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Government of Pakistan, I believe the right moves of the Ministry and a coordinated projection of various people-friendly initiatives of a Government within the country and abroad is indeed a daunting challenge. In fact it is becoming a strategic requirement of any State and I am sure the incumbent Omanis Information set-up is well versed with it. All this augurs well for the Sultanate of Oman.