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Saudi Arabia holds municipal elections

Wolf Blitzer Reports
Saudi Arabia

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Voting got under way Thursday in Saudi Arabia's first local elections.

"I believe this is a good step that we did and hopefully we will see more steps going on in Saudi Arabia," voter Monir al Shiaryi said.

But only men converged on polling stations in the capital, Riyadh.

In this very conservative country, women were not allowed to vote or run for election -- which some of the men regretted.

"For sure women should also vote in the next elections. And I wish to see it in other things, not only with this level of election," said al Shiaryi.

Maybe next time, they say.

"We couldn't include all elements of society in this election but God-willing the coming elections that will be held after four years that all other elements of society will take part," said Prince Mansour bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

But voting of any sort here is a new phenomenon, and the mayor of Riyadh, one of the first cities to vote in the elections that continue in March and April, according to The Associated Press, said he was happy with the election -- even if it wasn't enthusiastic. Fewer than one in three men eligible to vote did so.

"They have to convince people to actually take part in it and to show some sign of effort or interest in it," said Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi oil and security analyst.

There are plenty of candidates -- 1,800 nationwide -- but their powers as municipal councilors will be very limited, and as many will be appointed as elected.

One Saudi watcher guards against high expectations:

"It's going to be no cure all for all of the problems of Saudi Arabia nor for the problems of the relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, but it is going to an interesting test," says Simon Henderson, author of "After King Fahd."

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