Elections in the Arab world’s largest economy will start on April 23, Kingdom’s electoral commission says
Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, will hold municipal elections next month in a bid to deter the political unrest that’s hitting other countries in the region.
The elections in the country with one-fifth of the world’s proven oil reserves will start on April 23, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing Abdul Rahman Al Dahmash, the director of the kingdom’s electoral commission.
More than two months of protests have shaken the Middle East and North Africa as citizens demand civil rights, higher living standards and the ouster of autocratic regimes. In Bahrain, a Saudi neighbour, security forces quelled mainly Shiite demonstrators calling for democracy after Saudi-led troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council entered the country on March 14.
The municipal election announcement comes after Saudi King Abdullah on March 18 ordered an increase in spending, including $67bn on housing and funds for the military and religious groups that back the ban on domestic protests.
A call for a March 11 demonstration in the kingdom failed to materialize after the government deployed troops and senior clerics denounced protests as un-Islamic.
Although Saudi Arabia held its first municipal elections in February 2005, the second election was delayed in May 2009 until yesterday’s announcement. The 150-member Majlis al-Shoura council, the country’s assembly, is appointed by the king and plays only an advisory role.
Saudi Arabia is the least democratic country in the Middle East and ranks 160th out of 167 countries worldwide, according to the Democracy Index for 2010 published by the Economist Intelligence Unit. All political parties and organizations are banned in Saudi Arabia.
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