Sunday, August 9, 2009

Conservatives prep for JCCI elections

By Galal Fakkar
JEDDAH: The election for a new board of directors of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) in October is culminating in what is being viewed as a showdown between varied interests of reformists versus a unified bloc of conservatives.

The JCCI is the largest chamber in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region with the city of Jeddah alone home to 40 percent of commercial activity in the Kingdom.

“It is high time the conservatives run for the elections at the chamber, especially considering that the reformists have controlled the board of directors of the chamber for many long years,” a conservative candidate said on condition of anonymity.

“The JCCI is now our target after we have extended our role in the service of society and in promoting social responsibility of companies.”

The candidate said there was coordination and contacts between the sons and daughters of a number of famous trading families who had a long history in supporting the activities of welfare societies.

“They are familiar faces in the public service while at the same time they are successful traders,” he added.

Chamber member Abdullah Damas said the victory of the conservatives in the elections of the 12-member municipal council in its first session five years ago gave them more confidence to move ahead in the JCCI.

Half of the seats of the municipal council are filled by popular vote. The other half of the membership of the council is appointed. All adult men are allowed to vote. Conservatives won in those elections that some claimed were biased in favor of a so-called “Golden List” of predominantly conservative candidates backed by local religious leaders. The critics filed a lawsuit against the election results but lost the case.

Damas said that the conservatives vying for positions at the JCCI “are organized people with distinctive footprints in the world of business.”

According to chamber sources, the reformists are running in three blocs while the conservatives have coalesced into one bloc backed by the conservative members of the municipal council who have called for “infusing new blood into the chamber.”

Sources said current members of the JCCI board of directors will not constitute a bloc of their own but may join the blocs of either the conservatives, the reformists or the independents.

It is expected that more than 100 candidates from reformists, conservatives and independents will run in the elections. A number of the incumbent board members, including four women, have expressed their intention of running in the elections.

The Elections Committee will meet by the end of August to draw up its working plans for the elections. Chambers of commerce in Saudi Arabia are powerful commercial organizations that act as quasi-governmental organs that issue licenses and notarize official documents. They are comprised of various committees that lobby for different interests, such as lawyers, manufacturers or fisheries.

The JCCI has about 20,000 members, but those who have not renewed their membership six months before the election date will not be allowed to vote.

An analyst, who did not want to named, said if a reformist group, headed by Dr. Abdullah Saddiq Dahlan, won, he might allow foreign investors to run for the elections of the chamber in the future.

Dahlan is Saudi Arabia’s current representative to the International Labor Organization. He was a former secretary-general of the JCCI and once served on the Shoura Council.

Source : Arab News

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