Voting rights for Saudi women took another step forward this week. Female candidates began registering to run in upcoming municipal elections — and for the first time, women will be able to vote for them. Voter registration began in mid-August and goes through mid-September. Sunday marked the start of candidate registration for the Dec. 12 municipal elections. The developments came ahead of King Salman’s visit to the White House on Friday, when he and President Barack Obama are expected to discuss counterterrorism efforts, the conflicts in Yemen and Syria, and the Iran nuclear agreement.
In 2011, the now-late King Abdullah said women would be allowed to vote and run for local office in 2015 elections, and advocates were watching to see if his successor King Salman would follow through on his promise.
“It’s symbolically very important” that he did, said Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch. It sends a clear message to Saudi society including the conservative population that progress on women’s issues, which started under King Abdullah, will continue, he said.
Municipal councils are the only elected bodies in the kingdom. They handle local matters, such as zoning changes, and until now the portion that wasn’t appointed was elected by men only.