Saudi Arabia

Saudi Women Vote for First Time

from The Wall Street Journal,

Women cast ballots and run for office in municipal election seen as turning point for kingdom.

Saudi women headed to the polls in a nationwide municipal election on Saturday, voting and running for office for the first time in their country’s history. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and local councils are the only popularly elected bodies that exist. Their powers are limited: They approve budgets and oversee urban development projects, but have no final say on how public money is spent. But in an ultraconservative country where women are deprived of many basic rights—such as the ability to drive or to travel abroad without the permission of a male relative—many female voters see their inclusion in the election process as a turning point. “I have goosebumps,” said Ghada Ghazzawi, a businesswoman, as she entered a polling station in the coastal city of Jeddah. “We have been waiting for this day for a long time.” Despite their inclusion, only 130,000 women registered to vote, compared with 1.36 million men—a fraction of around 7 million overall eligible voters in the country. Several women blamed the cumbersome registration process for the low numbers. Many others said they simply didn’t care. Out of the 6,900 candidates competing for 2,100 elected seats in Saudi Arabia’s local councils, 979 are women, but few are expected to win a seat. The results are expected to be released on Sunday. “It’s very difficult because it’s the first time—and we are competing against men,” said Rasha Hefzi, a social worker who is running for office in Jeddah. “But people are thirsty for change.”

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