Saudi women register to vote in municipal elections

Polls slated for December are the first in which women will be allowed to vote and stand as candidates.

Saudi Arabia
According to the Saudi Gazette, a third of the 1,263 voting centres are being set aside for female voters [AP]

Women in Saudi Arabia have begun registering to vote in municipal elections, the first time they are able to take part in the electoral process in the kingdom. 

Women will also be able to stand as candidates in the polls, slated for December.

The ongoing voter registration and the planned vote usher in a new and “exciting time” for women, as they participate in local governance, Afnan Linjawi, a Saudi writer, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

“I didn’t expect this to happen so soon,” Linjawi, who is also a first-time voter, said. She credited local female leaders for pushing the initiative, as well as the newly named King Salman for approving it.

Linjawi said that while some sectors of Saudi society view women’s suffrage as a “Western intrusion”, she sees a “linear advancement in women’s participation” in the country’s affairs and politics.

“I guess with any change that happens, you have to face opposition.”

On Monday, two women from Mecca and Medina became the first female voters to register. 

December’s polls is the third time municipal elections have been held since 2005. 

Partial local elections first took place in 2005, but with only men voting for male candidates for half of each municipal council.  

Elections were to be held every four years, but in February 2009, the government announced that it was postponing indefinitely “for evaluation” the 2009 polls, as the push for universal suffrage intensified.

In 2011, the election originally scheduled in 2009, took place, and during the same year legislation was passed allowing women to vote and run for office by 2015. 

At the same time, the legislation also set the voting age to 18. 

According to the Saudi Gazette, a third of the 1,263 voting centres are being set aside for female voters. 

In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, Amnesty International called Saudi’s decision “long overdue”, but added that it is only a fraction of what needs to be addressed over gender equality in the country. 

“Let’s not forget that Saudi Arabian women won’t actually be able to drive themselves to the voting booths as they’re still completely banned from driving.”

The statement also pointed out that women in Saudi are still unable to travel, work, study or marry without permission of a male guardian, adding that more reforms are needed.

Source: Al Jazeera