“Islamists Dominate Saudi Arabia Elections” from AP:
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Candidates backed by conservative clerics dominated the final stage of Saudi Arabia’s landmark municipal elections, according to results announced Saturday.
In the kingdom’s commercial capital of Jiddah, the seven winning candidates were those whose names appeared on what was dubbed the “golden list” — the picks of fundamentalist clerics.
Five of the six winners in Buraydah, capital of ultraconservative Qassem province, also received a clerical nod, and the holy city of Medina also saw Islamist candidates finishing well. Many Islamists also won seats in municipal council polling elsewhere in February and March.
The three stages of voting were the first nationwide elections in this monarchy. The municipal council posts have little power except for at the local level, but many Saudis jumped at the chance to have even a small voice in politics.
The Saudi monarchy, a longtime ally of Washington, has been under U.S. pressure to make some democratic reforms. But the limited experiment in democracy — only men could vote and run for seats on the half-appointed councils — also appeared to be an attempt to deflate the militant Islamic movement by bringing some Islamists into the system.
The government can balance the makeup of the councils by naming liberals to the portion of seats reserved for government appointees…
“We are an Islamic country and we are Islamists. We will stick to our Islamic values in fulfilling our duties according to the book and al-Sunnah,” said winning Jiddah candidate Bassam Jamil al-Khadher, referring to the Quran and sayings of Islam’s founding Prophet Muhammad.
Al-Khadher denied there was any coordination or formal list, which would have been illegal under Saudi election rules. However, the list of names was widely circulated on the Internet and through mobile phone text messages. …
Nabil Qamlu, a liberal lawyer who lost to one of Jiddah’s “golden” candidates, accused the powerful clergy of interfering in the elections. Some losing candidates were expected to lodge complaints with the election commission, which largely ignored such complaints made before the vote.
“This is neither democracy nor equal opportunity,” Qamlu said. “Who has given them such power to determine whom should the electorate choose.
“For the next election, I must grow a beard in order to get elected.”
Abdel-Rahman al-Yamani, who secured the most votes in Jiddah — nearly 12,000 of the 55,000 cast in the municipality — attributed the Islamists’ success to popular support rather than a well-organized clerical campaign.
“We are religious people by nature and secular people are not accepted by the society,” he said.
In Buraydah, a city known as a hotbed for Islamic militancy, only one of the six winning council members was not among the clerics’ recommendations — that was a businessman with strong tribal backing…