http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/w-me/2004/jul/10/071002793.html Saudis to Hold First Vote Since 1960s By ABDULLAH AL-SHIHRI ASSOCIATED PRESS RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Saudi Arabia said Saturday it will hold municipal elections in September, the first polls to be held in decades in this conservative kingdom. Municipal Affairs Minister Prince Mutaeb said election preparations have started and a list of regulations would be issued soon, the official Saudi Press Agency reported. The vote will cover 178 municipal councils organized in 13 districts, Mutaeb said. The elections are scheduled to be held after summer vacation ends and the at the start of the school year, which begins Sept. 11. The municipal elections would give Saudis the chance to participate - if only in a limited manner - in decision making, a rare even in the oil rich kingdom which is an absolute monarchy that has an unelected Consultative Council that acts like a parliament. Political parties are banned and press freedoms are limited. Last year, Crown Prince Abdullah, the kingdom's de facto leader, ordered authorities to prepare for municipal elections within a year. His announcement came a few months after suicide bombings in Riyadh on residential compounds housing foreigners. The Riyadh bombings generated a new sense of urgency in a Saudi reform drive that began after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. Fifteen of the 19 suicide hijackers were Saudi, prompting questions about whether the conservative form of Islam practiced in the kingdom feeds extremism. The pace of reform has been fitful, reflecting the government's need to conciliate conservative and progressive strands in society. Muslim radicals see some reforms - such as deleting material offensive to Christians and Jews from school textbooks - a deliberate attempt by the government to de-Islamize the kingdom. Progressive Saudis, however, want faster and more radical changes. Mutaeb said several election preparation teams participated in studies conducted by the ministry in cooperation with foreign experts. He did not say if women would be allowed to run or vote. The last elections were held in the 1960s, but it is unclear why they were halted. In the 1970s, a new election law for municipal councils was written but no elections were held.