Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Customized and Misleading Elections

CDHR Comment: Under tremendous pressure from the first Bush Administration (, the Saudi autocratic ruling family came to the conclusion that some political gesticulation has to be conducted to appease its mounting global critics and silence its increasingly restless population, especially women and youth. The Saudi regime decided to erect well customized and tightly controlled municipal elections in late 2004 and early 2005. Obsessed with fear of raising their disenfranchised population’s hopes for concrete political reforms, the Saudi royals designed an elections’ paradigm that would give the illusions of political reforms, but in reality designed to strengthen the absolute established order.

A well structured strategy not only for the 2005 municipal elections, but for future use when the regime decides to hold follow up elections. The ploy called for direct elections of half of the candidates who meet government’s intense investigation and endorsement and the other half would be appointed by the government. Women and anyone under the age of 21 as well as all public employees, including military and security personnel, were not allowed to run for office or vote. The elected individuals’ duties had to be assigned by the government which did not happen until some nine months after the elections. The elected officials were told to play observers role, collect complaints and submit them to the higher-ups, effectively co-opting them into becoming part of the existing dysfunctional government agencies.

The next elections were supposed to have been held four years later, in 2009, and according to officials in the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs’ who is in charge of elections, women would be allowed to participate next time around. However, the king arbitrarily postponed the elections until 2011. No reason for the postponement was given and no one dare ask questions. On the September 25, 2011, four days before the second municipal elections were to be held, King Abdullah gave a speech where he decreed that women would be allowed to participate “in future elections” (the earliest might happen in 2015) and would be appointed to the powerless national Consultative Council according to the Shariah law and Muslim traditions. This means women would not be allowed to sit in the same room with men and may not have equal votes to that of men.

Given Saudi women unabashed demands for their rights, it may not be that easy for this king or his successor to exclude them form the next elections and get away with it peacefully. Saudi women are gaining strength in number, determination and support among men and even members of the ruling family. Read more

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