Saudis go to the polls again

SAUDI men went to the polls for the second time this year on March 3, as part of a three-phase municipal elections process — the first of its kind in the kingdom since the 1960s.

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By  Massoud A. Derhally Published  March 13, 2005

SAUDI men went to the polls for the second time this year on March 3, as part of a three-phase municipal elections process — the first of its kind in the kingdom since the 1960s. The elections, which are open to men aged over 21, took place in the eastern and southwestern regions of the country. The turnout was estimated to be around 75% in the Eastern town of Dammam, according to exit polls. Half the municipal council seats are being elected, with the remainder appointed. Some 321,650 voters were registered with 2500 candidates running in the second round of elections. However, the election was not free of controversy with several instances of sectarian tension reported as religious clerics flexed their muscles. According to local newspapers, election tickets were drawn along sectarian lines in Dammam, where seven Sunni clerics who took part in the race won. “Do not be lazy ... vote for the religious and moral,” said a ticket for the Sunni candidates endorsed by a number of local Sunni clerics. “Do not give the opportunity to [your] enemies, who are full of spite against your religion and homeland, those who spread depravation,” said the pamphlet, in apparent reference to Shiites, who make up roughly 10% of the kingdom’s 17 million population. On February 10, Saudi men went to the polls in the capital Riyadh, where the Saudi government claimed the turnout was as high as in the first elections of their kind in the 1960s. Some 73% of the 140,000 registered voters turned out in the election race in Riyadh. Women have been barred from running in the elections or casting votes, though Saudi officials told Arabian Business in February that women will be included in the next round of elections in 2009. The Saudi government is keen to portray the electoral process as part of its response to calls from progressive movements for political reform and the wider liberalisation of the country. Since the 9/11 attacks, a number of reformers have petitioned Crown Prince Abdullah, the de-facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, to implement reforms. There have also been pockets of dissent in the country with Saudis taking to the streets in Riyadh and the coastal city of Jeddah. The third and final round of voting will take place in the northern and western regions on April 21.

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