“Elections to the municipal councils will take place next October", said Dr Salih al-Malik, reported Al-Sharq al-Awsat.

“There is no question of going back on the elections,” added Salih al-Umair, who is leading a Shura Council delegation visiting London.

“The experience of the Shura (mutual consultation) and the municipal elections will be a positive factor to establish the idea of elections so that they will become general and not just municipal,” the daily quoted al-Umair as saying.

The report continued quoting al-Malik as saying that “there are more similarities between (the Islamic principle of) Shura and democracy than differences.”

Al-Malik told the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) the participation of women in the Shura Council was under study and a decision on whether women would be able to vote in the municipal elections would “not take a long time.”

The primary function of the Shura Council is to advise the king on issues of importance to the nation. Its members are appointed by King Fahd for a four-year renewable term.

Fourteen councils

Saudi Arabia announced last October the first elections in the Kingdom would take place within a year in order to elect half the members of 14 municipal councils.

“The experience of the Shura and the municipal elections will be a positive factor to establish the idea of elections so that they will become general and not just municipal"

Salih al-Umair,
Saudi Shura official

"Semi-official" reports have since said elections will be held within three years to fill one-third of the Shura’s 120 seats and half the members of regional councils will be elected within two years.

Saudi reformers as well as participants in the two national dialogue sessions held in Riyadh and Makka have asked the government to hold elections to the Shura.

The decision to hold elections was taken at the weekly Cabinet meeting, chaired by King Fahd, on the recommendation of Crown Prince Abd Allah, deputy premier and commander of the National Guard.

Currently, the report has added, the only elections in the kingdom are those held to choose some members of the governing boards of chambers of commerce and industry.

Petition

In February, hundreds of Saudi academics and professionals petitioned the crown prince. urging him to speed up political reforms in Saudi Arabia.

The petition was sent to Crown Prince Abd Allah bin Abd Al-Aziz, the country's de facto ruler, as well as other senior Saudi figures.

It called for the recommendations of a "national dialogue" session in Makka in late December, to be implemented with a priority-based timetable.

Backed by 800 signatories, who included women activists and business people, the petition said this would "push the reform process forward".

The signatories singled out demands for "broadening public participation, electing the Shura (consultative) Council and regional councils," and creating trade unions and other institutions of civil society.