Manama: At least 13 Saudi women have won seats on local municipal councils a day after women voted and ran in elections for the first time in the country's history, according to initial results released Sunday.
The winners hail from vastly different parts of the country, ranging from Saudi Arabia's capital and to the Red Sea city of Jeddah and to a small village near Islam's holiest sites in Makkah.
According to an official announcement in Riyadh, Huda Abdul Rahman Al Jaraissi, Jawaher Othman Al Saleh and Alya Mukaiman Al Ruwaili have won enough votes to become municipal councillors.
Salma Bint Hizab Al Otaibi was declared a winner in a Makkah electoral district while Aisha Bint Humood Ali Bakri won a seat in Jazan in the southwestern part of the kingdom.
In Jouf, one woman was also announced as a winner, and Mona Al Omairi won in Tabook. Two women made history in Al Qaseem.
In Ihsa, Sana Al Hamam and Maasooma Abd Rab Ridha became the first women to win municipal seats.
In Jeddah, Rasha Hifdhi and Lama Abdul Aziz Al Sulaiman, also made history.
The women's whole-hearted participation in the elections has demonstrated their readiness for political empowerment despite all the challenges.
In Hael, in the northern part of the kingdom, women turnout was 88 per cent, making it one of the highest figures in the country.
Despite the lukewarm campaigns ahead of the votes, the municipal elections started off strongly in the Eastern Province where the local committee overseeing the polls reported that more than 35,000 voters showed up in the first hours to cast their polls.
“We have noted an intense participation in several areas in the Province,” Fahad Bin Mohammad Al Jubeir, the head of the committee, said.
“The turnout was of course different from one segment of the society to the other, particularly among young people. However, we also noted that the participation of women as candidates and voters has had a significant effect on increasing the turnout,” he said, Saudi news site Sabq reported.
Al Jubeir said 165 polling stations were opened for the elections in the Eastern Province, one of the least conservative areas in the vast kingdom.
“We have opened a press centre to update the media on any developments and on the figures and results as they become available,” he said.
Several witnesses said they saw old people braving the limitations resulting from their old age and going to polling centres to cast their ballots.
Centre heads said they had received clear instructions to ease procedures to allow all voters, especially the older ones, to elect their municipal councilors.
In the capital Riyadh, the polling was slow in the morning, but it picked up around noon and the turnout reached much higher levels, reports said.
“The highest number of voters was in early afternoon, and the process was smooth, especially that people seemed to know exactly what to do,” Ahmad Al Murshid, a member of the election committee in King Salman Social Centre, said.
However, female voters registered in the same centre went to cast their polls early in the day.
“We have 23 female candidates and 153 female voters,” the head of the women’s section said.
Fawzia Al Yousuf, one of the voters, said that she was keen on casting her ballot.
“I deeply believe in the importance of voting in order to be part of my country’s drive to empower women and elevate their status,” she said. “The turnout was good and the voting proceeded smoothly. I personally voted based on the candidates’ programmes and plans,” Fawzia, a school social assistant, said.
Najla, another candidate, said that she wanted the world to change their preconceived ideas about Saudi women.
“This was a historic occasion and I am one of the women who really want the international community to witness how women in Saudi Arabia do have their rights,” she said. “I voted for candidates based on their views and perspectives, and not on their relationship with me. I am optimistic women will contribute to serving the society in a highly positive manner,” she said.
However, Hayfa Hababi, a candidate, said that the turnout was below what she had expected.
“I believe that the short period of time for the campaigning as well as the low level of awareness among voters explain why the turnout was rather low,” she said. “However, the organisation at the polling stations was good,” she said.
In Taef, in western Saudi Arabia, security authorities have launched an investigation into a pamphlet attributed to conservative religious figures who asked voters not to cast ballots for female candidates.
The pamphlet claimed that voting for women was religiously unacceptable and warned that voting for people who did not deserve to be elected amounted to a sin.