11/16/2012, 00.00
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Oman to hold the country's first local elections

Omanis will be able to elect representatives to 11 provincial councils. However, the latter will not exercise legislative powers, but can only make recommendations. Political parties continue to be banned and ordinary citizens are not allowed to interfere in government decisions.

Muscat (AsiaNews/ Agencies) - Omani authorities have picked 22 December for the Sultanate's first local elections. The Interior Ministry announced the date after months of discussion.

"The Interior Ministry has finalised preparations for the municipal elections in 11 Omani provinces," ministry undersecretary Khaled al-Busaidi. For this purpose, an information campaign is underway.

The Gulf state currently has only one local council in the capital and its members are all appointed.

The new councils will have no executive powers, but will present recommendations to improve local services.

Viewed as one of the most stable countries on the Persian Gulf, Oman is a sultanate where political parties are banned and citizens are not allowed to participate in the government's decisions.

Oman's elected Majlis al-Shura, created in 1991, has the authority to question ministers and advise the government on socio-economic issues but has no legislative power or role in defence, internal security or foreign policy.

The normally peaceful sultanate was caught up last year in the protests that swept the region during the Arab spring.

Like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Omani authorities used an iron fist to crush demonstrations. In the northern city of Sohar, two demonstrators were shot dead in March during clashes between police and protesters.

With a population of about 3 million people, the sultanate is one of the richest Gulf States. About 99 per cent of its economy is based on oil production and exports, which provide employment for most residents, whilst agriculture represents less than 1 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.

The country's 1996 constitution makes Islam the state religion, but also recognises freedom of worship.

About 116,000 Christians and 145,000 Hindus live in the country, mostly migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia.

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