Losing candidates cried foul on Friday, saying six of the seven victors had violated a ban on election alliances when their names were circulated via mobile phones and the internet to voters in the kingdom with messages suggesting they had the backing of religious figures. 

"There were regulations which forbade any coalitions. Those regulations were violated," defeated candidate Zafir al-Yami said. "They won through this violation. 

"I don't know them personally. But they had a religious character to them," he said of the winners, adding that he planned to appeal against the result. 

Thursday's municipal elections in Riyadh and outlying areas were the first stage of a nationwide vote that is edging towards political reform under pressure from the United States and domestic activists. 

Many candidates

Hundreds of candidates registered to stand for the seven seats up for grabs in the capital. The other seven seats will be appointed, and the powers of the municipal councils are likely to be limited.

Women were barred from voting or standing for posts. 

Saudi women were barred from
taking part in the elections

At least one candidate was estimated to have spent millions of riyals (hundreds of thousands of dollars) on election posters, newspaper advertisements and rallies as part of his unsuccessful campaign. 

Election commission chief Prince Mansur bin Mitaib bin Abd al-Aziz said the Riyadh city council winners were Abd Allah al-Suwailim, Sulaiman al-Rashudi, Tariq al-Qassabi, Abd al-Aziz al-Umari, Umar Basudan, Ibrahim Quaid and Misfir al-Bawardi. 

Turnout in the capital was 65% of registered voters, though only a small fraction of the eligible male voters bothered to register in December, reflecting scepticism over the powers the half-elected councils will wield.

Narrow spectrum

It was not immediately clear what path the victorious candidates might chart for the councils. The candidates themselves could not be immediately contacted. 

"I hope they can serve the citizens, though I doubt they can because they represent only one part of the spectrum," said university professor Ahmad Uwais, one of hundreds who petitioned de facto ruler Crown Prince Abd Allah last year for reforms. 

"I hope they can serve the citizens, though I doubt they can because they represent only one part of the spectrum"

Ahmad Uwais, 
university professor

Uwais said it was natural that religious candidates would do better than liberal reformers and other candidates because they had "the mechanisms which other people do not have" in the cradle of Islam, where political parties are banned. 

"But we must defend this experiment and it should continue regardless who wins," he added. Losing candidate Bandar al-Faqir said he received a mobile phone text message advising him to vote for a list of seven "virtuous" candidates. 

"The list of names is exactly the same as the list of winners," al-Faqir said. "We don't have a religious trend because we are all Muslims, but there are those who exploited religion in the elections."