Saudi women vote for the first time in landmark election

Saudi woman Fawzia al-Harbi, a candidate for local municipal council elections, uses her laptop at a shopping mall in Riyadh November 29, 2015.

Saudi woman Fawzia al-Harbi, a candidate for local municipal council elections, uses her laptop at a shopping mall in Riyadh November 29, 2015.


Saudi women are heading to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in this landmark election.

More than 5,000 men and around 980 women are running as candidates for local municipal council seats. More than 130,000 women have registered to vote compared to 1.35 million men.

The election, which does not have quotas for females, is widely seen as a small but significant opening for women to play a more equal role in Saudi society.

Not many women are expected to win seats because of the sheer number of male candidates and because many had no previous experience running campaigns. Many women said they also could not afford the high cost of running a public campaign.

“I don’t consider winning to be the ultimate goal … but it is the right of being a citizen that I concentrate on and I consider this a turning point,” said Hatoon Al-Fassi, general coordinator for the grassroots Saudi Baladi Initiative that worked closely with women to raise voter awareness and increase female participation in the election.

“We are looking at it as an opportunity to exercise our right and to push for more,” she added.

It’s the third time in recent decades that Saudi men are voting in the municipal council elections . The first local council election was held in 2005 and the second in 2011, with only men taking part.

Both male and female candidates relied heavily on social media to reach voters, using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to announce campaign events and explain their platforms, which include ideas such as creating more youth centers, nurseries, parks and improving roads.

The candidates are vying for around 2,100 council seats with an additional 1,050 seats appointed with approval from the king.

While the municipal councils do not have legislative powers, they do oversee a range of community issues, such as budgets for maintaining and improving public facilities.


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