Full commitment to equality pledged in Saudi 2015 elections as women set to vote, run, conduct campaigns
Saudi Arabia has announced its commitment to full equality between men and women as both voters and candidates in next year’s municipal elections.
“Arrangements, procedures and measures have been developed in line with legal provisions and taking into account international norms and standards for elections,” the ministry of municipality affairs said.
“These emphasise equality between all participants, men and women, in the electoral process. There is no distinction between anyone and everyone is treated according to the same standard in those arrangements, procedures and measures. All have the same rights and the same duties at all stages of the electoral process and requirements,” the ministry said in a statement published on Tuesday.
Saudis wishing to cast ballots or to run as candidates will have to present their national ID cards — no other document will be accepted to vote or to run in the elections, it said.
The authorities have been pushing for all citizens to get national IDs, a move that has faced resistance by conservatives who oppose women being given personal identification cards.
The national ID will also be used to enter polling stations and to fulfil other election-related requirements, such as the organisational aspects, procedural challenges to the polls and election campaigns, the ministry added.
Women can conduct their own election campaigns, with the right to use the same means and tools as men, the ministry said.
Polling stations will not be mixed and the authorities will have separate stations for men and women.
Male candidates will have to appoint women agents to represent them at the all-women polling stations, while women candidates will nominate male agents for the all-male polling stations.
The concrete steps towards allowing women to vote and run in the elections are expected to have a profound effect on Saudi society.
In September 2011, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud said that women would have the right to vote and stand as candidates in the 2015 municipal elections, the only public polls in the kingdom.
“Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote,” said King Abdullah, whose stances on reforms, particularly on women’s rights, have been obvious since he became ruler in August 2005 when he said in his speech that women would become members of the Consultative Council in the next term in 2013.
“We made this decision because we refuse to marginalise women in the Saudi society in their roles that comply with the Sharia and following consultations with many of our scholars who supported it,” King Abdullah said. “Muslim women in our history have had stances that cannot be sidelined, be it through views or advice, since the time of Prophet Mohammad [PBUH].”
According to the Saudi monarch, “balanced modernisation compatible with Islamic values was a significant necessity.”
“It is our right to receive your opinion and advice according to the fundamentals of our religion. Whoever trespasses them is arrogant and must take responsibility for those actions,” he said in the speech that helped elevate the status of women in his country.
In January 2013, King Abdullah, adroitly working within the local culture’s established norms, appointed 30 women to the 150-seat Shura Council for the first time in the country’s history.
The appointed women included 27 with a PhD degree and two princesses from the Al Saud royal family.
Women’s rights are regarded as a litmus test for social and political reforms in Saudi Arabia, where conservative tribal and religious leaders oppose even slight changes.