[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 11 February, 2005, 21:46 GMT
'Islamist win' in key Saudi poll
A Saudi man casts his vote in the first municipal election in Riyadh
Some voters spoke of their delight at taking part in elections
Islamist-backed candidates have taken a commanding lead in Saudi Arabia's first municipal election, in Riyadh, according to preliminary results.

The poll is part of an official plan to bring elements of democracy to the Gulf kingdom, with 1,800 candidates vying for 592 seats in 178 councils.

Later rounds will be staged in other parts of the kingdom over a period of two months.

In Riyadh, 650 candidates have been 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.

Surprise outcome

According to official figures quoted by AFP news agency, over 70% of registered voters turned out.

Phase 1 - 10 Feb (Riyadh reg)
Phase 2 - 3 Mar (5 regions)
Phase 3 - 21 Apr (7 regions)
Total number of councils - 178
Total contested seats - 592
Councils in phase 1 - 38
Seats in phase 1 - 104
Candidates in phase 1 - 1,818

Observers and losing candidates said at least five of the seven winners' names had been on a list distributed by internet and mobile phone, which had religious backing.

Correspondents say the apparent outcome is a surprise in view of a high-profile campaign run by wealthy businessmen and real estate developers.

But at least one losing candidate said he would challenge the result on the grounds that the winners had violated election law forbidding any public alliance of candidates.

Voting was initially slow but the numbers arriving at polling stations in Riyadh and its suburbs increased as the day went on.

"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."

Final results are unlikely to be released until Friday or Saturday.

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.

Saudi Arabian election gathering
After a slow start, voter turnout picked up as the day wore on

Despite a late flurry of electioneering in Riyadh, the excitement of candidates has not been matched by that of their constituents, our correspondent says.

Candidates started campaigning only after voter registration ended and some Saudis say they now regret not having signed up to vote.

After Riyadh region, the next two phases of the polls will see the south and east of the country voting in early March and the north and west casting their ballots in late April.

Nationwide, more than three million Saudis are said to be eligible out of a population of some 24 million.

A US state department spokesman said the polls were "a sign that Saudi Arabia is not immune to the reforms sweeping the region".

Why the poll is so important

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific