x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Turnout poor in Saudi Arabia's municipal elections

Final all-male poll in the kingdom fails to attract voters from the 1.2 million eligible out of a population of 27.5 million.

RIYADH // A low turnout of Saudi men voted in municipal elections yesterday, the last all-male polls in the kingdom.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud this week gave women the right to participate in 2015.

Some 5,324 candidates competed for 1,056 seats in only the second elections in Saudi history, to fill half the seats in the country's 285 councils. The other half are appointed by the government.

The first elections in the kingdom, which has a population of 27.5 million, including 19 million Saudis, were held in 2005.

The government extended the existing council's term for two years.

About 1.2 million male voters registered to take part but the polls attracted little interest.

Just a few voters had shown up before midday at a polling station in Al Olaya neighbourhood in central Riyadh, an AFP correspondent reported.

"The movement is slow before noon. People are still asleep because it is a day off," said candidate Abdulwahab Al Maliki.

At another voting centre at Al Farazdaq primary school, election supervisors waited for voters but very few turned up.

"I am confused. I don't know who I should vote for. Candidates have used Facebook to communicate with us. I prefer direct contact," said Mohammed Abdullah. "I don't think I will give my vote to any of them."

Voting was also slow in the economic capital, Jeddah. "I voted for a colleague of mine," said retired teacher Ibrahim Ghazi, adding that he "didn't check any of the manifestos of the candidates and I didn't know other names".

The results of the vote are expected on Sunday.

Yesterday's polling comes just four days after King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in the next municipal elections in four years, a historic first for the conservative country.

Women's rights activists had long fought for the right to vote in Saudi Arabia, which bars women from driving or travelling without the consent of a male guardian.