Voters in Oman went to the polls Saturday to elect representatives in the 84-member consultative Shura council.
The body is part of the larger Council of Oman, which also includes the appointed State Council and has traditionally met at the request of Sultan Qaboos bin Said to discuss topics of his choice.
About 520,000 people registered to vote in the sultanate with local population of less than 2 million people. An electoral commission official reported a “strong” turnout in the early hours.
Saturday’s polls were the first general elections since pro-reform demonstrations spread throughout the normally peaceful country earlier this year, and followed a pledge by the government to meet most demands set by protesters.
The move has generally pacified public displays of dissent. However, some Omanis say the slow pace of change could prompt further unrest.
Responding to the protests, Sultan Qaboos granted “legislative and regulatory powers” to the Council of Oman in March, although it is still unclear exactly what the powers permit. Nevertheless, many Omanis see the move as a step forward.
In addition to announcing legislative reform, Sultan Qaboos also pledged to create 50,000 new government jobs, allocated more funds for the unemployed and reshuffled his cabinet.
Omanis first took to the streets in January to demand more jobs, higher salaries, greater democracy and an end to government corruption. Some claim a number of ministers continue to embezzle state funds while others in the country are unable to pay for food or receive a proper education.
Sultan Qaboos established the Shura Council in 1991 in a bid to modernize Oman’s government.
Successful candidates are elected to four-year terms and are permitted to run for re-election.
No foreign observers have been invited to monitor this year’s poll.