Saudi Women Score First Election Wins in Historic Vote

  • Saudi women run in municipal elections for the first time
  • Women also allowed to cast votes in kingdom for first time

Saudi women have won seats on municipal councils in a landmark election that allowed them to run for office and vote for the first time.

The official Saudi Press Agency said at least eight women who vied in Saturday’s election will be seated on local councils. Al Arabiya television reported at least 12. A total of 7,000 candidates, male and female, contested 2,100 seats. Official results are expected later Sunday.

A Saudi woman casts her ballot

Source: AFP/Getty Images

King Abdullah ordered the inclusion of women in municipal elections -- the only nationwide vote in the absolute monarchy - before he died in January. He also named women to the 150-member Consultative Council and opened more areas of the labor market to them as part of a gradual easing of restrictions on their role in society and the economy.

The changes are more cosmetic than seismic. Municipal council representatives deal with issues such as parking facilities and hospital improvements, and not the overarching issues that affect a society where women are still banned from driving and need a male guardian’s permission to have some surgical procedures.

During the election campaign, candidates were not allowed to address voters of the opposite sex but were permitted to use segregated halls with audio and visual links. Women were not allowed to display their photos, so all candidates were banned from using them.

Of the 1.48 million voters registered for the Dec. 12 ballot, 130,637 were women. Saudi Arabia has a population of about 28 million including foreign nationals, according to the CIA World Factbook. It ranked 161st out of 167 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Democracy Index.

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