AhlulBayt News Agency - Elections are unnecessary in Saudi Arabia because its people are happier with the current system of government “than almost any other country in the world”, the kingdom's UN ambassador has claimed.
Abdallah al-Mouallimi was challenged as to why the Saudis were calling for elections in Syria, but only allow limited municipal elections in their own country, where it is illegal to call for a change of government or publish criticism of the state.
Mr Al-Mouallimi, the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations, was grilled on the point in an interview for Al Jazeera by British journalist Mehdi Hasan.
Mr Hasan asked: “If the people of Syria should get to choose their own head of state, why not the people in Saudi Arabia as well?”
Mr Al-Mouallimi responded: “Elections are not the panacea for everything. Just because there are elections in Syria doesn’t mean there have to be elections in Saudi.
“The key question is: Is the population content and happy and satisfied with the form of government they have and I would like to claim if you went to Saudi Arabia and conducted a survey… you will find a high degree of support for the system.”
Mr Hasan responded: “Isn’t that partly because they do say they want another government they will go to jail?”
Mr Al-Mouallimi denied this, claiming that even an “anonymous survey” would return support for the political system.
He added: “What is important is the pact between the government and the governed, the mutual acceptance.
“I can tell you that mutual acceptance is much higher in Saudi Arabia than almost any other country in the world.”
Municipal elections were held in Saudi Arabia in December, with women allowed to vote for the first time in the country’s history. Representatives were elected to its “consultative assembly”, which can propose laws but does not have the power to enact them.
Political parties are banned in Saudi Arabia and the country is run by a king, who serves as head of state and absolute monarch. Calling for a change of government or removal of the monarchy is illegal, and it is a crime to publish anything which damages the state’s reputation.
Saudi Arabia is one of several countries to call for “free and fair elections” to be held in Syria.
Earlier in the month, Amnesty International called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its abuse of laws to stifle dissent.
The Arab kingdom has enforced an “abusive” anti-terror law, which equates peaceful protests with terrorism, and allows it to hand down lengthy jail terms to peaceful critics and human rights activists after holding “deeply unfair” trials for them, the rights group said in a statement.