Shia to make their mark in Saudi polls

Saudi Arabia's Shia minority has jumped at the chance offered by local polls to have their say in the oil-rich kingdom.

    High turnout in some areas is attributed to calls by Shia clerics

    As members of the Shia community, who are concentrated in the Eastern Province, prepare to vote in the second round of landmark elections, one of the leading Shia Shaikhs in the kingdom, Shaikh Ali al-Nasr said: "The role of these councils is limited, but [elections] are a chance to assert the presence of the Shia as equal citizens." 

    "There is no particular Shia interest in the municipal councils ... . There is national interest, and Shias are part of this country," the Dammam-based Shia scholar said.

    The second round of the historic ballot, this time to elect half the members of municipal councils in the Eastern Province and south western regions of the kingdom, will take place on 3 March.

    The first round in the capital Riyadh on 10 February saw 73.6% of only 140,000 registered voters - about 30% of total eligible voters - taking part.

    Encouraged to vote

    A third and final round will take place in the western regions of Makka and Madina, as well as the northern regions, on 21 April.

    The ballot is open to men aged over 21 except military personnel.

    "I have called (on followers) to register ... This is a new step towards democracy"

    Shaikh Ali al-Nasr,
    Shia leader based in Dammam

    The high turnout in some areas has been attributed to calls by Shia clerics for their followers to make their voices heard via the polls.

    "I have called (on followers) to register ... . This is a new step towards democracy," Nasr said.

    "No doubt, the encouragement by scholars to participate played a role in raising the level of Shia registration," Shia academic Adnan al-Shakhs commented.

    No voice

    The Shia candidate in Tarut Island, Jafar al-Shaib, said: "This is an opportunity for the Shia to express their belonging to this country."

    Shaikh Hasan al-Safar, another prominent Shia figure in the kingdom, urged registered voters to cast their "valuable" votes, citing last month's Iraqi elections as an example of the importance of participation.

    "We are a sect with no voice. I aim to get our voice heard," Muhammad al-Nimar, who is campaigning for a number of Shia candidates in Dammam, said, summing up his mission.



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