Women in Saudi Arabia begin their first-ever electoral campaign

GERMAN PRESS AGENCY - DPA
RIYADH
Published 29.11.2015 14:18
Nassima al-Sadah, a candidate for municipal councils in the Gulf coast city of Qatif, working at her office in Qatif 400 kilometers east of Riyadh (AFP photo)
Nassima al-Sadah, a candidate for municipal councils in the Gulf coast city of Qatif, working at her office in Qatif 400 kilometers east of Riyadh (AFP photo)

Saudi female candidates running for municipal councils began on Sunday campaigning in elections marking the first time women are allowed to vote and contest polls in the conservative kingdom.

Around 865 women are among 6,140 Saudis standing in the elections due to be held on December 12, according to official figures.

Two thirds of seats at the kingdom's 284 councils are up for grabs. The other third of members will be appointed by the government.

Women's participation in the polls, the third of their kind in the oil-rich Gulf country, was decreed in 2011 by then king Abdullah.

The monarch, who died in January, had also ordered that 20 per cent of members of the kingdom's quasi-parliament, the Shura Council, be women.

Women standing for municipal councils are prohibited from holding rallies attended by men, an electoral official said on Sunday.

"The female candidate can only communicate with the electorate via a TV circuit," spokesman for the official election commission Jadeeh al-Qahtani said in a tweet.

"A spokesman for her can communicate with men on her behalf."

Contenders from both sexes are also barred from displaying their pictures in public during the 12-day campaigning.

The restrictions are expected to prompt contestants, mainly women, to rely on social media to reach potential voters.

The country's registered voters are estimated at 1.5 million, including 136,000 women.

Saudi Arabia is dominated by the puritanical Wahhabi school of Islam.

Despite the growing female representation on government bodies, activists complain that women still require a male guardian to transact official business.

Women are also banned from driving in Saudi Arabia.

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