Candidates backed by Islamic clerics won municipal elections in Saudi Arabia's capital in the kingdom's first regular balloting, an election observer said Friday. But it was too early to say whether that represented a trend in the landmark polls, which are staggered across three months.
At least five of the winning candidates for the seven electable seats on the Riyadh City Council are thought to be Islamists. It was not known whether the seven winners sought the clerical endorsement indicated on a list or whether they received the support unsolicited.
Suleiman al-Oqaili said at a news conference to announce preliminary results that he saw the seven Riyadh winners' names on the list circulated via cell phones and the Internet.
"It was promoted as a list that had a religious blessing," Oqaili said.
At least two losing candidates objected to the results. One of them said the circulated list violated electoral law by claiming religious backing.
The municipal elections will be held in three stages. Thursday's first stage was for half the country's municipal councils, with voting in other regions scheduled for March and April. Only men were allowed to vote, and balloting was confined to the capital Riyadh and adjacent districts.
Many Saudis see the elections as a modest step toward democracy voters will elect only half of the local councils, while the other half will be appointed.
Still others see the polls as a remarkable development in a country ruled by an absolute monarchy and where any talk of participation in decision-making used to be taboo.
Losing candidate Thafer al-Yami said he had seen the winning list that was circulating.
"These people have hijacked the elections," he said.
Yami said the list indicated an alliance among "certain people who follow the same line."
"The list contravened the election law. We want transparency," he said, calling for the election commission to investigate the list.
Another losing candidate, Bandar al-Faqir, said the results from three polling stations should be thrown out because of irregularities. He said that two voters were photographed chatting as they chose their candidates and that electoral officials had briefly taken away 150 voter registration cards without explanation.
Prince Mansour bin Miteb, chief of the election commission, said objectors had five days to file complaints with the Grievance and Complaints Committee, which is obliged to respond within five days after that.
Riyadh lies in the most conservative region of the kingdom, but it also is the political heart of the country.
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