Country Governance

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POGAR > Countries > Country Theme: Elections: Saudi Arabia
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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is governed by a hereditary monarch. The current ruler is King Fahd bin Abdel-Aziz, who also has served as the country’s prime minister since 1982. Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud, half-brother to the monarch, is the First Deputy Prime Minister. The king issued a number of royal decrees in 1992 and 1993, including the Basic Law of Government, and statutes governing the already existing Council of Ministers and the newly created Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shura). The Basic Law functions in some respects as a written constitution, although it is not formally given that title. Although the Consultative Council is not elected, the king approved a measure in 2003 that created a 14-man council for each municipality, half of which would consist of elected representatives. The proposed elections were held in 2005, after the king had pledged to “broaden popular participation in the political process.”

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Election Laws, Systems and Processes

Prince Mansour, who headed the general elections committee, called on professional and academic non-governmental associations and societies, including the Journalists Association, to monitor the elections in their capacity as independent entities. The minister of municipal and rural affairs, prince Mit'eb Ben Abdel-Aziz, issued a decree that established a contests and complaints committee. No international party was present to monitor the voting process. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) extended technical assistance to Saudi Arabia in the area of election preparations but not in monitoring them.

Political parties are not legal in Saudi Arabia.

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Local Elections

In 2003, the King approved the creation of consultative councils on the municipal level, with half of the officials in these bodies to be elected by popular vote. Every municipal council includes 14 members, 7 of whom are elected and 7 are appointed.

The first municipal elections were conducted in 3 stages: on February 10, on March 3, and on April 21, 2005. Seventy percent of an electorate of 330,000 registered male voters participated in the elections. They chose 244 municipal council members out of 4600 candidates. The elections were monitored by 700 local observers in 258 electoral centers. Official results showed that candidates close to or affiliated with Islamic circles won the majority of municipal seats. They won all 7 seats in Jeddah and Mecca, 6 out of 7 seats in Al-Madina and 5 out of 6 seats in Ta'if. In Tabook 3 mosque preachers won half its municipal seats while 2 seats were won by tribal candidates and one seat by a real estate businessman. In Brida Islamic candidates won only 2 out of 6 municipal seats, and in Anaiza town they won 2 out of 5 seats. Most Islamic candidates were highly qualified technocrats and moderate Islamists. Saudi liberal intellectuals said that candidates close to Islamic circles and inclinations would naturally win in the first municipal elections to take place in 40 years in a conservative Muslim country. Other intellectuals gave weight to the efficient organizational capability of Islamic candidates.

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