Saudi Men Vote in Local Elections

Posted September 29th, 2011 at 9:19 am (UTC-5)
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Saudi Arabian men are voting Thursday in the country's second-ever nationwide election.

Voters trickled into the polls to cast ballots for local council spots. More than 5,000 male candidates are running for 1,056 seats in nearly 300 local councils nationwide.

The elections will fill half the seats on local government councils. The other half is appointed by the government.

The kingdom has 1.2 million registered male voters. Women are not allowed to vote in this election, but Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah announced earlier this week that women will have the right to vote and run in local elections starting in 2015.

King Abdullah also said that women will be appointed to the Shura Council starting with its next term. The Shura Council is an advisory body which is selected by the monarch and so far has been all male.

However, two days after the king's announcement, a court in the Red Sea city of Jeddah sentenced a Saudi woman to 10 lashes for challenging the conservative Muslim kingdom's ban on women driving.

Amnesty International welcomed the new right to vote but said the king's “much-trumpeted” reforms amounted to “very little” if women are still going to face physical punishment for “trying to exercise their right to freedom of movement.”

Sources within the Saudi government say King Abdullah overturned the court's verdict on Wednesday.

There is no written law in Saudi Arabia barring women from driving, only fatwas, or religious edicts, stemming from a strict tradition of Islam called Wahhabism.