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20 women elected in historic Saudi Arabia elections

Published 13/12/2015

Saudi women vote at a polling centre during the municipal elections in Riyadh (AP)
Saudi women vote at a polling centre during the municipal elections in Riyadh (AP)

Saudi voters have elected 20 women for local government seats, according to early results, a day after women voted and ran in elections for the first time in the country's history.

The women who won hail from vastly different parts of the country, ranging from Saudi Arabia's largest city to a small village near Islam's holiest site.

The 20 female candidates represent just 1% of the roughly 2,100 municipal council seats up for grabs, but even limited gains are seen as a step forward for women who had previously been completely shut out of elections.

Women are still not allowed to drive and are governed by guardianship laws that give men final say over aspects of their lives like marriage, travel and higher education.

Though there are no quotas for female council members, an additional 1,050 seats are appointed with approval by the king who could use his powers to ensure more women are represented.

Around 7,000 candidates, among them 979 women, competed in the election for a seat on the municipal councils, which are the only government body elected by Saudi citizens. The two previous rounds of voting for the councils, in 2005 and 2011, were open to men only.

The conservative capital of Riyadh saw the most female candidates win, with four elected. Eastern Province, where minority Shiites are concentrated, saw two women elected, said Hamad Al-Omar, who heads the General Election Commission's media council.

Saudi Arabia's second largest and most cosmopolitan city, Jiddah, also elected two women, as did one of the most conservative regions, Qassim.

The mayor of the city of Mecca, Osama al-Bar, said a woman won in a village called Madrakah, about 93 miles north of the city that houses the cube-shaped Kaaba to which Muslims around the world pray.

Another woman won in Medina, where the Prophet Mohammed's first mosque was built.

Other women hailing from the kingdom's northern-most areas won, with two elected in Tabuk, one in al-Jawf and another in Hail. Additionally, a woman won in Saudi Arabia's southern border area of Jizan, another in Asir and two won in al-Ahsa.

Many female candidates ran on platforms that promised more nurseries to offer longer daycare hours for working mothers, the creation of youth community centres with sports and cultural activities, improved roads, better rubbish collection and overall greener cities.

Mr Al-Omar said the historic election drew 106,000 female voters out of 130,000 who registered. Out of 1.35 million men registered, almost 600,000 cast ballots. In total, 47% of registered voters took part in the election.

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