Saudi Arabia elects female politicians in historic vote

Riyadh: At least four women have won seats in Saudi Arabia's municipal polls, the country's first-ever elections open to female voters and candidates, local reports said on Sunday.

The female candidates were elected to three councils -- two in Ihsaa governorate and one each in Tobouk and Makkah -- as votes were still being counted on Sunday, Al Jazeera reported.

Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi was elected to the council of Madrakah, a region in Makkah, the official SPA news agency reported, citing election commission president Osama al-Bar.

Saturday's municipal polls, which were hailed by many as historic, saw a turnout of about 25 percent.

Women are banned from driving and must cover themselves in public in the kingdom, which was the world's last country to give its women the right to vote.

The official results in the latest election were expected to be announced on Monday.

More than 900 women ran for seats. They were up against nearly 6,000 men competing for places on 284 councils whose powers are restricted to local affairs including responsibility for streets, public gardens and rubbish collection.

A female voter, Najla Harir, said: "I exercised my electoral right. We are optimistic about a bright future for women in our homeland."

Hatoon al-Fassi, a Saudi womens' rights activist and writer, said in a tweet: "This is a new day. The day of the Saudi woman."

There were no elections in the 40 years between 1965 and 2005.

The decision to allow women to take part was taken by the late King Abdullah and is seen as a key part of his legacy.

In announcing the reforms, King Abdullah said women in Saudi Arabia "have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice".

Before he died in January, he appointed 30 women to the country's top advisory Shura Council.

There were 2,100 council seats available in Saturday's vote. An additional 1,050 seats are appointed with approval from the king.

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