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Saudi Arabia: Voters Call Process ‘Public Relations’ Campaign After Municipal Council Members Nominate Municipal Heads | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Several electors who had voted to elect those who represent them in the municipal councils so as to achieve their everyday demands have expressed their resentment of what they called the “public relations” campaign that is being exercised at the expense of the voters who trusted their candidates. Several candidates voted for the municipal heads and cities’ mayors to chair the municipal council, something that involves a conflict of interest in decisions. Some mayors and municipal heads who were chosen expressed this when they refused to chair the council and opted to remain active members inside it.

Dr. Said al-Utaybi, public politics teacher at the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, stressed that the process of choosing the municipality head was carried out by the members. They do not have an effect on the members who reached the council through the people’s choice and also do not have an effect on the state-appointed members. He added, “In my view, what might happen is not the chairman’s disregard for some decisions if he is a municipal head or mayor but a delay in implementing these decisions on the ground because there are a number of other requirements, which in their view have priority. We do not forget that one of the municipal council’s tasks is to look at the everyday needs and not to legislate laws because it is not a legislative organ.”

He went on to say, “By reading the clauses in the municipalities and villages system issued by royal decree No. 5/M on 10 February 1997 and which is based on cabinet decision No. 130 of 26 January 1977, we find that Article 6 in Chapter 1 that deals with the municipality’s powers stipulates that the municipal council has authority and that it will exercise the authority of decision and supervision while the municipal head exercises the implementation power with the help of the municipality’s organs as he is responsible for administering them and ensuring that their employees carry out their duties according to the rules and instructions organizing the work in them. He has the right to issue decisions and instructions that concern the municipality but which are not inconsistent with the rules. Article 13 of Chapter 2 that deals with the municipal council stipulates several conditions that the municipal council member should not have, one of them is that the member should not hold membership in two councils, that he should not be a municipality employee unless at least one year has passed since his resignation from it or his transfer to another job, and finally the member should not be the president or director of a company that has connection with the municipality’s work or a member of this company’s board of directors.

Fahd al-Shihri, one of the voters whose candidate won a seat in Jeddah’s municipal council, said: “I was deeply shocked when I learned from a source close to me in the municipality that the council members voted for Jeddah Mayor Engineer Adil Faqih. It was not that Faqih is incompetent that was the shock but I believe it is not reasonable for the controller and the controlled to be one and the same. How will he criticize himself and will he address the criticism from the council to himself?”

As the Saudi areas witness the selection of the municipal councils’ heads, some observers of the elections process believe that it was all in all good to some extent and demonstrated the Saudi individual’s political, administrative, and behavioral maturity. The process of choosing the council head and his deputy was carried out by public or secret ballot as decided by the members at the sessions they held for that purpose. The selection is for two years that can be renewed. But what some candidates are doing now does not represent the elections process but satisfies their own personal wishes by voting for the chairman or mayor, which is inconsistent with the council’s general aims.

Al-Utaybi reiterated that the council’s decisions or lack of them remain the responsibility of all, whether it is the head or other members. He added, “We should take into consideration that the candidates are competent, otherwise they would not have been elected by a majority in the recent municipal elections. It is the same with the appointed members who have the competence that qualifies them to join the council. But we just have to wait since the councils have not carried out their actual work and it is unfair to judge the baby before it is born.”