Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani on 15 April urged Qataris to vote in a 29 April referendum on a draft Constitution that will grant legislative powers to a 45-member Shura (Advisory Council), regulate ruling family affairs and lay out a separation of powers in a significant step towards democratisation in the GCC region. Once voted in, the Constitution is not open to amendment for a minimum period of ten years.
The Emiri decree – of which details and an unofficial translation were published in the Doha daily The Peninsula on 15 April – provided for the formation of a Public Referendum Committee to supervise the plebiscite and announce the result; this will be under State Minister for Interior Affairs Sheikh Hamad Bin Nasser Al-Thani.
Some 30 members of the 45-member Shura will be elected by the citizens aged 18-plus and 15 members will be appointed by the Emir. They will serve a four-year term. The Shura will have the right to propose laws, and will set up specialised sub-committees to study them. It will also approve the State Budget – and will be able to question the prime minister and ministers on it. Pointing to the Shura’s potential to develop as a genuine parliament, ministers will have to hold themselves responsible to the Council for the functioning of their ministries.
The Constitution will vest executive authority with the cabinet, to be headed by a prime minister. The Council of Ministers and Cabinet will have the right to propose legislation. The Cabinet will be formed by the Emir – signalling the Al-Thani family’s continued primacy, albeit under new checks and balances. The Constitution also lays down the foundation for an independent judiciary, stipulating that no other agency has the right to interfere with the judicial process. Islamic Sharia law remains the main source of Qatari legislation.
The Emir is not voting himself out of a job – and the Constitution enshrines the Al-Thani’s leading role. Article 8 states: “The Rule of the State shall be hereditary within the Al-Thani family and by the male successors of Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Hamad Bin Abdallah Bin Jassim. The inheritance of the Rule shall go to the son to be named by the Emir as Heir Apparent. If there is no male offspring, the Rule shall be transferred to the one from the family whom the Emir names as Heir Apparent and, in this case, the Rule would then be inherited by his male successors. A special law shall organise all provisions related to the ruling of the State and its inheritance, to be issued within one year of the date of this Constitution coming into force, and should have a Constitutional validity.”
Once approved by the Shura, laws must be endorsed by the Emir. But he will have to give reasons for rejecting a draft law submitted by the Council – and he must approve the law if it is sent to him a second time by the Shura with a two-thirds majority support. The Emir has the right to stop implementation of such a law for a period if he believes it is in the country’s greater interest.
The Emir has the right to dissolve the Shura, but not without giving his reasons for such an action. The Council cannot be dissolved twice for the same reason – potentially giving it some power over the Emir in standoffs to come. Pointing to another potential area of conflict as the Shura develops its teeth, no-confidence motions can be moved against a minister with an application signed by at least 15 Shura members; it would be carried with a two-thirds majority.
The Constitution also provides for the creation of an Al-Thani Ruling Family Council. Among its tasks will be to decide who rules in the event of the Emir’s death or disability. A Council of Guardians would be formed to manage Emiri functions should the heir apparent not have reached the age of majority (18).