OpinionMeister

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Saudi Arabia's First Election

BBC reports on the Saudi election for part of the municipal councils. Link.
Voters have gone to the polls in Saudi Arabia's first nationwide municipal election, as the kingdom's government aims to bring in elements of democracy.

The first phase was held in and around the capital, Riyadh, with later rounds to be staged elsewhere over two months.

Overall, 1,800 candidates are vying for 592 seats in 178 councils. In Riyadh, 650 are fighting for just seven seats.

Women are excluded from the polls and only some 148,000 of 400,000 eligible men have registered to vote in Riyadh. (...)

"This was a wonderful moment," Badr al-Faqih, a 54-year-old geography professor, told AP after casting the first ballot at one polling station. "This is a first step towards more elections."(...)

The polls can be seen as a small step in Saudi Arabia's measured response to calls for reform, says the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Riyadh.

The powers of the municipal council are not clear and half the council will still be chosen, as before, by appointment.

It is easy to make fun of this election. It is not turning over much authority to voters, and these only include men. However, voters have a way of getting used to elections. Limited voting rights are like heroin; voters keep needing more just to be minimally satisfied. Saudi elections cannot remain like this. Either the princes have to do away with them, or they have to keep expanding them until they represent some real power sharing.

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