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Oman, Government

Political authority emanates from Sultan Qaboos, though the government has been progressively modernized and liberalized since Qaboos came to power in 1970. As sultan, Qaboos is head of state, prime minister, and minister of foreign affairs, defense, and finance. His cabinet, the Council of Ministers, carries out the administrative and legal functions of government. While each minister has significant discretionary power in day-to-day policy, Qaboos approves all important decisions. In 1981 he established a Consultative Assembly, whose members he selected, to advise him on social, economic, and educational policy. In 1991 Qaboos replaced the assembly with a Consultative Council, a body intended to give wider participation to Omani citizens. Representatives of Omanís 59 districts select nominees and the sultan gives final approval. In 1994 membership in the Consultative Council was expanded from 59 to 80 (with the larger districts represented by two members) and women candidates were permitted. Even though it is still an advisory, not a legislative body, the council has significant responsibilities. It reviews all social and economic laws, helps to draw up and carry out development plans, and proposes ways to improve public services. Members serve three-year terms.

In November 1996 a Basic Law, in effect a constitution, was promulgated to regulate several important areas of governance. The law called for the creation of an upper chamber, the Council of State, which together with the Consultative Council forms the Council of Oman. In December 1997 the sultan announced the appointment of 41 people, including 4 women, to the Council of State. The exact duties of the Council of State and its relationship to the Consultative Council have not yet been made clear. The Basic Law also outlines a process for choosing a successor to Qaboos, who has no heir; forbids government ministers from holding positions in private companies, in an attempt to separate political and economic power; and affirms the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

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