Omanis have found new role

MUSCAT - The citizens of Oman will commemorate their 41st National Day on Friday with the firm belief that their country is irretrievably on the path to democracy and they will now have a major say in policy decisions.

By (Our Correspondent)

Published: Thu 17 Nov 2011, 9:28 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:34 AM

The unprecedented voter turnout and new-found enthusiasm among the 1,000-plus candidates in last month’s elections to the Majlis Al Shura was ample demonstration of this new feeling of confidence and optimism.

This, in turn, was prompted by the conviction that the new Majlis, until now virtually an advisory body, will for the first time wield powers and authority that it has never enjoyed before, a pledge that came from none other than the ruler himself. Also, some of the cabinet ministers will now be chosen from among the 84 members of the council representing the 61 wilayats or districts in the country. As a first significant step marking the new direction that the Majlis is taking, the newly-elected members met within two weeks of the vote to choose the chairman, or speaker, of the house in a secret ballot, another historical first. Until now, the chairman had been a nominee of the ruler.

A record 72 per cent of the registered voters totalling 520,000 exercised their franchise in the October 15 election. In the previous ballot, in 2007, the voter turnout was 62 per cent. The number of candidates too was an all-time high 1,133 including 77 women.

Although only one female contestant was successful, the 2011 vote is considered a victory for Omani women because they had drawn a blank in 2007.

Besides granting audit and legislative powers to the Majlis, changes announced by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said soon after public protests swept through the country at the beginning of the year demanding political and economic reform, included the council’s right to question ministers, new drastic measures to curb corruption and the creation of 50,000 jobs for nationals.

The state’s laws and regulations have guaranteed for every Omani the right to express his opinion and participate with his constructive ideas in enhancing the march of progress witnessed by the country in various arenas, Sultan Qaboos reminded his people as he inaugurated the fifth term of the Council of Oman, comprising the nominated State Council and the Majlis Al Shura, last month, reinforcing his stand on people’s active participation in the running of the country.

“We have always believed it is important that there should be a wide range of different ideas and opinions, and that people should not be prohibited from thinking freely, because this is evidence of a community’s strength and its ability to benefit from these opinions and ideas to serve its aspirations for a better future and finer, happier life”, he said.

However, he made it clear that freedom of expression did not mean that any party had the right to force its opinions on others or suppress the rights of others to express their ideas freely, since this has nothing to do with democracy or law; and keeping up with the times does not mean imposing one’s ideas on other people.

The Omani monarch noted that the more thought became diverse, open and free of fanaticism, the more it became a correct and sound basis for building generation, the progress of nations and the advancement of societies. “Inflexibility, extremism and immoderation are the opposite of all this and societies which adopt such ideas only carry within themselves the seeds of their eventual destruction”, he added.

He also declared that corruption would not be allowed in any shape or form and instructed his government to take all necessary measures to prevent it and we direct all the audit authorities to fulfil their duties resolutely in this regard with the full force of the law, away from doubt and uncertainties, since justice must take its course and become our goal and objective.

The reforms have come at a time when the country’s economy is doing exceptionally well. Firm oil prices in the international market have ensured that the Omani economy will wind up 2011 on an encouraging note, and policymakers are highly hopeful about next year.

Minister Responsible for Financial Affairs Darwish bin Ismail al Balushi said recently the sultanate’s economy was on course to achieve a growth rate of 5.6 per cent in 2011. “The average price earned by Omani crude this year is about $100 per barrel. This will contribute to a growth of 5.6 per cent in the national economy at constant prices in 2011”, he said recently.

“The forecast for 2012, he said, remained optimistic in the backdrop of indicators that oil prices would continue to rule high despite fears of the possibility of another recession in the world economy.

“Oman projects prices to remain above $80 a barrel next year”, he added.

The ongoing eighth Five Year Plan targets an annual five per cent growth at constant prices triggered by an ambitious investment programme estimated at RO30 billion.

Another encouraging factor is that the sultanate’s banking system has remained immune to a great extent from the direct implications of the global financial crisis.

A performance evaluation of the financial sector made by the IMF and World Bank noted that Omani banks managed to avoid the negative implications of the recent global financial crisis, thanks to the effective audit procedures made by Central Bank of Oman.

Meanwhile, the country’s foreign policy, founded on the tenets of friendly relations with countries around the world, non-interference in other nations’ affairs and peaceful co-existence, and its unwavering and principled stand on major regional and international issues continue to attract global praise.

However, it adheres to its stances on major regional and international issues. Oman is one of the staunchest supporters of the Palestinian cause and it demonstrated this once again in September when the country extended its unstinting backing for the Palestinian bid for full United Nations membership.

It reiterated its support at the 66th UN General Assembly in New York, also emphasising that the future Palestinian state must be based on the 1967 borders as per international resolutions.

“We have worked together as an international community and encouraged negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the government of the Israeli occupation, but no progress has been achieved”, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdallah said addressing the Assembly.

Therefore the world has to take serious action and honour its commitments for a fair and lasting solution. We believe that the establishment of the Palestinian State on the borders of June 4, 1967 will lead to a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The country has also taken a principled position on other subjects of international concern. It strongly believes that the continued world financial crisis calls for new collective efforts and solutions that need innovative strategies for investment and international trade. This, the country feels, was vital to reduce the negative impacts of the crises in countries and societies across the world, particularly in developing ones.

Earlier this year, Oman’s international stature considerably rose when it played a key role in the release by Iran of American hikers

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. They were freed from an Iranian jail following mediation by the sultanate which also provided their $800,000 bail.

Bauer and Fattal spent a few days in Muscat together with their family members and Sarah Shourd, Bauer’s fiancée, who had arrived in Oman awaiting their release, before leaving for home. Shourd had also been jailed with Bauer and Fattal but was released last year in a deal mediated by Oman.

The three of them were arrested in July 2009 while hiking on the Iraq-Iran border on charges of espionage and illegal entry into Iran. They denied the charge saying they had innocently strayed into Iranian territory.

US President Barack Obama thanked Sultan Qaboos for his efforts in securing the Americans’ freedom. He telephoned the Omani monarch “to convey the United States’ deepest appreciation for His Majesty’s exceptional and successful role in securing the release of the young American hikers from Iranian detention and the cooperation between our governments in this endeavour,the White House said in a statement after the conversation.

And last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Oman to personally thank the sultan on behalf of Obama and the US government.

Again this month, Oman was instrumental in the release of three French aid workers kidnapped by Al Qaeda militants in Yemen. The trio — two women and a man — were kept hostage for more than five months before they were freed. They were brought to Muscat on an Omani military plane before being flown home. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Sultan Qaboos to personally thank him for his efforts.

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