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Saudi Arabia Prepares for Historic Municipal Elections


Saudi Arabia's electoral commission says preparations are complete for the country's first ever municipal elections, which will get underway Thursday.

Voters will elect 592 candidates, or half the members of the kingdom's municipal councils. The remaining half will be appointed.

The nationwide vote will be held in three phases. Thursday voters will go to the polls in the central region, which includes the capital, Riyadh. Voters in the rest of the country will cast their ballots in March and April. Men over the age of 21 who are not in the military are eligible to vote. Women, who represent half of the country's population, are not eligible.

Thursday's election is the first time Saudis will have a voice in their government, and many say it is the first step to real reform. But despite that, voter interest has been low, with less than a quarter of eligible voters registering in the Riyadh region. But candidates have turned out in force.

More than 1,800 businessmen, tribal figures and academics are competing for seats on 38 municipal councils in the Riyadh area. In the capital alone, 640 people are running for just seven seats. Candidates have campaigned for 12 days, holding dinners for prospective voters and lining roads with posters and billboards.

Arab News newspaper reports that 142 voting centers have been set up for Thursday's vote. They will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.