Nations abroad, citizens hail landmark elections

A Saudi man casts his ballot at a polling station in the capital Riyadh, in this December 12, 2015 photo, during municipal elections.

A Saudi man casts his ballot at a polling station in the capital Riyadh, in this December 12, 2015 photo, during municipal elections.

There has been praise from citizens, civil society, and several countries around the globe for the Kingdom hosting elections that allowed women to participate for the first time as voters and candidates.

The elections saw voters elect 20 women to municipal councils alongside 2,086 men. Four women were elected in Riyadh, making it the city with the highest number of women representatives.

They are Alia bint Makiman bin Ghabn Al-Furaiji, Huda bint Abdulrahman bin Ali Al-Jeraisi and Jawahar bint Othman bin Nasser Al-Saleh.

Mona Salahuddin Al-Munajjed, a prominent sociologist who has written several books on successful Saudi women, said: “This is a landmark breakthrough with women entering the political process at the very grassroots level of public life.”

She said it did not matter how many women won but that the reform process in the Kingdom was ongoing after women were appointed to the Shoura Council in 2013. She said women were finally being “allowed to play their role in political life and it is a welcome step.”

She said women in Switzerland were granted the right to vote only in 1971, despite the country being a democracy and having had direct representation in a few cantons. “We got it now, which is good.”

Zeyad Abdullah, a student in Riyadh, also praised the landmark event saying it would help women’s empowerment in the country.

The United States lauded the Kingdom for holding the nation’s first inclusive ballot. John Kirby, spokesperson for the American State Department in Washington, congratulated the men and women who won seats, including the nearly 1,000 women who ran and participated as candidates in the “historic polling.”

“The participation of women represents an important step forward in Saudi Arabia toward a more inclusive electoral process that will ensure all citizens are represented in a government accountable to all Saudi citizens,” Kirby said in his statement after the results were announced on Sunday.

“As we have long said, the inclusion of all citizens in voting and governance is critical to the prosperity, stability and peace of all nations, we welcome this historic milestone,” he said.

The German government, in a statement issued to Arab News by its embassy in Riyadh, stated: “The fact that women were able to vote and stand for office for the first time in the municipal elections in Saudi Arabia is a major step.”

“There are many impressive women in the Kingdom who have made advances in administration, business, media, culture and science,” it said. The embassy stated that it wanted to “express Germany’s respect for the women who took the initiative to play their role in the political life of Saudi Arabia.”

The Cabinet, at its meeting in Riyadh on Monday, also congratulated the 2,106 men and women who had been elected to places on the country’s municipal councils, and praised the 542,702 voters and government agencies and committees that participated in the electoral process.

The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) said in its report that the elections were conducted peacefully and in a transparent manner, with the results boosting women’s empowerment.

Although the NSHR reported several challenges including some voters in rural areas not being able to reach polling stations, and the disqualification of several candidates, it said that election committees had worked to overcome many of the difficulties.

The United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper on Monday quoted women activists as saying that while the councils were limited to advising local government and helping oversee budgets, it was a “crucial first step toward achieving wider rights and broadening the understanding of civic engagement.”


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