All Set For Historic Civic Elections

RIYADH, 9 February 2005 — Voting in the historic elections for Riyadh municipal council will be held tomorrow. The counting of votes will start immediately after the voting ends and results will be announced late that night or on Friday, an Election Commission spokesman said.

Election fever has gripped Riyadh and its suburbs, where “polling will begin at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m.,” said the spokesman, who preferred to remain anonymous.

“The Election Commission will start counting the votes Thursday night after the daylong polling process is completed,” confirmed Dafer Saeed Al-Yami, a candidate contesting the election in District No. 3, who has intensified campaigning since Monday. He has lined up several meetings and in all his meetings he discusses a range of municipal and social issues.

The commission has told candidates to wrap up their electioneering activities before midnight tonight, said Mojahed Matouk Al-Harithy, a candidate in District No. 4.

Al-Harithy said candidates found campaigning after the stipulated period could face punitive action. An appeals and complaints committee has been set up by Municipal and Rural Affairs Minister Prince Miteb to look into poll irregularities.

Al-Harithy hopes that the voter turnout is substantial because Saudis are now realizing that their votes are crucial to improving services and promoting the reform process in the long run.

Senior election officials will man the 73 polling stations, which have been set up in Riyadh city alone. A total of 142 voting centers have been set up in the Riyadh region.

Mohammed ibn Massoud Al-Qahtani, a candidate contesting election in District No. 4 in north Riyadh, said that “we have intensified our campaign because there is not much time left.”

“We have been trying to reach as many people as possible before the poll starts Thursday”, said Al-Qahtani, a senior aviation official at King Khaled International Airport (KKIA).

Officials and candidates said no international observer will monitor the poll process. A few local organizations such as the Kingdom’s National Society for Human Rights will oversee the elections.

More than 5,000 male prisoners will also cast their votes, according to Brig. Gen. Ali Al-Qahtani, director of prisons in the Riyadh region.

These first-ever Kingdom-wide municipal elections, which begin from the capital city, will be conducted in three phases. Half of the members of the 178 municipal councils in the Kingdom’s 13 regions will be elected and the rest nominated. A total of 149,000 Saudi nationals have been registered as voters in the Riyadh region.

Nationwide, the poll will elect 592 candidates. The process will end April 21. Residents of the Eastern Province and the southwest will go to the polls March 3, while the western regions of Makkah, Madinah and the north will vote April 21.

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