Apathy for first elections

Saudi Arabia During 30 minutes at a Riyadh voter registration center, only two people – an old man and a prince – walked in to sign up for the kingdom’s first nationwide elections. At another center, a mere eight people registered in 45 minutes.

Despite a campaign urging residents to register before Thursday’s deadline, Saudi men – women are barred from voting – have shown little enthusiasm for elections in a kingdom long regarded as autocratic, secretive and resistant to reform.

By Sunday, only about 100,000 of 600,000 eligible voters in the Riyadh area had registered since the centers opened Nov. 23.

The three-stage municipal council elections begin in the capital Feb. 10. Saudis have not been swayed by pictures of senior princes and football stars signing up to vote. Nor have they been driven to emulate Iraqis and Palestinians who are due to cast ballots next month.

‘It didn’t occur to me’ to register, said Mohammed al-Subai, 29, who works in public relations.

‘How would it change my life?’ asked Faisal al-Amer, a 28-year-old electric company supervisor. ‘I want democracy, but making all that effort for municipal elections is not worth it.’ The elections for half the 178 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.

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