Saudi Arabia’s municipal election results sprung a surprise on Sunday with 19 women, out of a total of 2,106 candidates, emerging victorious and defying the general expectations of people across the Kingdom that fewer of them would win.
Among the 19 glorious women were two in Qassim, two in Eastern Province, two in Al-Ahsa, one in Jazan, three in Riyadh, two in Jeddah, two in Hail, two in Tabuk, one in Al-Jouf, one in Madinah and one in Makkah.
Abdul Lateef Al-Asheikh, municipal and rural affairs minister, said that 702,542 citizens cast their votes, which was 47.4 percent of all registered voters. He said the elected members would form two-third of the municipal councils. The rest will be appointed by the minister.
Speaking to AFP, Khadra Al-Mubarak in Qatif, a winner, said: “I will be in contact with society, especially women, to deliver their voices and demands to the council. I promise I will represent them by all means.”
Sahar Hassan Nasief, a campaigner in Jeddah, said: “Even if it was only one woman, we’re really proud of that. Honestly, we weren’t expecting anyone to win.”
In the first announcement of a female winner, Salma bint Hizab Al-Otaibi was elected in Makkah city, SPA reported.
Hanouf bint Mufrih bin Ayid Al-Hazmi won in Al-Jouf, SPA said, adding that neighboring Tabuk elected two women.
In the east, Sana Abdel Latif Hamam and Maasooma Abdel Mohsen Al-Rida were elected in Al-Ahsa province, SPA said.
Winners came from the south as well, with one woman elected in Jazan region, while two others including Lama Al-Suleiman will join councils in Jeddah, poll officials told SPA.
According to Judea Al-Qahtani, spokesman of the General Committee for Municipal Elections, female voters represented 42 percent of the total votes, though women’s participation as voters or candidates was the first of its kind in the history of the Kingdom.
A total of 235 candidates, including nine women, were disqualified for violations of regulations. A fine of SR50,000 was imposed on disqualified candidates.
Expressing his satisfaction about the turnout, Al-Asheikh said that his ministry had roped in 35,000 workers to man the 1,296 polling centers in all parts of the Kingdom.
Nouf Al-Rakan, the chairwoman of the businesswomen’s committee at Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, mentioned that the election and its results were an amazing opportunity for Saudi women to be part of the development and management process in their communities.
“Many of these women who participated in the election are known to me personally. They already have had a big impact on women’s issues in different fields, “ she said.
“I cannot wait to see these winners join the municipal council to prove to the entire world that Saudi women are an addition to their communities,” he added.
Mona Al-Bilaihid, an education expert who attended a preparation training course for women voters, highly lauded the women winning seats. “It was a great achievement made possible by the support of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to women in continuation of the policy of his processor King Abdullah in supporting women, “ she said.
“Having women on the municipal council has two important significances: The first guarantees that the needs of women and children in neighborhoods are better understood; the other is that women are really equal to men according to our Islamic religion,” she added.
Haitham Bozo, a prominent businessman, said that including women in the election and the council as winners is very important as women in any society, including in Saudi, represent half of the population.
“Besides this, women have great influence in Saudi society despite it looking like a male-dominant society, and I am sure that she will exercise the same influence in public affairs in her neighborhood related to women and children, especially since Saudi women have reached very high levels of education and experience, “ he said.
Ibrahim Al-Babutain, a government official, said that inclusion of women in the municipal councils will provide diversity in opinions in the council in addition to addition of new experiences in it and giving them the opportunity to participate in decision making.
“Women in Islam used to participate in decision making. This is proven by the story of the woman who stood in the face of the second calif of Islam, Omar bin Al-Khattab in a matter related to women, making him admit that he was wrong while she was correct, at the mosque that was a venue, similar to todays’ parliaments, to tackle public affairs that affect Muslims,” he said.
Abdul Latif Al-Sheikh, the minister, thanked Custodian of Two Holy Mosque King Salman who was keen on conducting the polls with a high degree of accuracy and transparency.
Thanking government agencies and committees that participated in the preparation and conducting of the electoral process, the minister said the media was largely responsible in raising awareness of the electoral system, its process and conduct of both the voters and candidates.
Congratulating the newly elected members, the minister said that the winners will contribute their best to the successful function of the local bodies.
“The successful election is mainly due to the awareness campaign conducted by the ministry by holding workshops, formation of various committees and training on voter registration at polling stations.”
He said success was also shown by the voters’ enthusiasm and the candidates’ ardent interest in participating in the polls.
The voting at all polling stations in the country began at 8 a.m. and continued without break until 5 p.m. on Saturday.
There were 343 constituencies distributed across all Saudi districts for citizens above 18 years of age. As many as 6,917 candidates were running for office, which included 979 females. The elections in Riyadh were contested by 286 men and 141 women, of whom 20 were elected which included three women. Voters who came to the polls in Riyadh included 7,765 men and 3,683 women.
The commercial capital of Jeddah province elected 20 members to the council which included two women. The province registered 39,748 voters which included 3,654 women.
The total number of voters in Al-Baha region reached 51.5 percent, which was supposed to be the highest in the Kingdom.
The voters comprised 12,743 men and 946 women.
Jazan also had a record of 44.9 percent voters registered for the polls. There were 15 winners including a woman.
Tabuk came out with 98 winners for 13 municipal councils in the region.
On Saturday, the voting day, around 1.5 million were registered as voters at 1,263 election centers, to give their voices to around 7,000 candidates, of whom 979 were women, for the municipal councils around the Kingdom.
The participation was a surprise to international press that carried many of their participation stories on their front pages.
Also women’s participation was a new experience and a big challenge for these women in a country mostly dominated by males.
According to election commission data, nearly 1.5 million people aged 18 and above signed up for the polls.
— With contribution from Mohammed Rasooldeen, Saeed Al-Khotani and Sharif Taha