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Fewer men than expected in Saudi elections
Updated: 2004-12-26 17:07

Far fewer men than expected have registered to vote in next year's Saudi municipal elections, although the vote offers the first chance to go to the polls in four decades.

Some 150,000 men have registered to vote in elections scheduled to begin in the capital Riyadh on Feb. 10. Officials had estimated that at least 400,000 men would sign up before registration closed Thursday. Woman were barred from voting.

Mohammed al-Naqadi, the vice president of the General Committee supervising the local elections, told a news conference that a number of the applications were still being verified, due to incomplete or duplicated forms.

Candidates can register to run in the elections from Sunday until Thursday, and the final list of candidates will be announced on Jan. 23.

The elections for half the 178 Riyadh council members the rest will be appointed by the government are part of the kingdom's measured response to calls for reforms long sought by liberals.

Polling in the eastern and southwestern regions will follow the capital, starting March 3. Voters in northern parts of the country will vote April 21.

Despite the kingdom's campaign urging residents to register, Saudi men showed little enthusiasm for elections in a country long regarded as autocratic, secretive and resistant to reform.

The elections are the first in the kingdom since some were held for municipal offices in a few cities in the 1960s. Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, has an unelected Consultative Council that acts like a parliament. Political parties are banned and press freedoms are limited.

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