1,039 Saudi women to run for local council seats
More than 1,000 Saudi women have been approved to run as candidates in municipal elections in various regions of the kingdom, a move hailed as a "significant milestone" in a country where women are still banned from driving.
The head of the Municipal Elections Executive Committee, Jadee al-Qahtani, said on Wednesday that 1,039 women are to compete against 6,140 men in Saudi Arabia's municipal elections.
|If one woman wins a seat it will be a victory for all women
- Dr Fawzia Bashtah
The elections are expected to attract around 1.7 million voters from various regions in Saudi Arabia.
The third round of elections will be held in December and is expected to be more significant than the first two rounds, as it will be the first time in the history of the country that a woman is allowed to run as a candidate.
Saudi women began registering to vote in Mecca and Medina in August for the elections.
The policy is being put into effect four years after the late Saudi king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, approved the rule change in 2011.
Human rights activist, Dr Fawzia Bashtah, said that the number of female candidates announced highlights an "evident" interest of Saudi women in politics, even if many people gave little significance to local elections.
Bashtah told al-Araby al-Jadeed, "More than 1,000 women applied to be candidates for elections and more than 200,000 applied to vote, confirming that Saudi women have a great interest in entering municipal councils."
The human rights activist made it clear that the candidacy of women in these elections are more important than winning because "if one woman wins a seat it will be a victory for all women".
Bashatah noted that women in the United States did not win a single seat in the Senate until after many rounds were held. The first time a woman was elected to the US Senate was in 1932.
The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs has attempted to provide a bigger role for municipalities by giving them financial and administrative independence.
The number of elected members of the Municipal Council had also risen from half to two thirds of the total number of members. However, only 8 percent of Saudis have registered to vote in municipal elections.
Rights activists have stressed that these changes are not sufficient, as the council still has no more than a supervisory role and a large number of its members are government appointees.
Municipal councils prepare a municipality's budget, set taxes and supervise local financial transactions.