- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2015

For the first time on Saturday, women will be allowed to participate in elections in Saudi Arabia, both as voters and candidates in a historic milestone in a country that still imposes strict rules such as a ban on women driving.

But few women are expected to actually cast their votes, in a country where many people have a jaded attitude toward municipal governments that are powerless under the rule of the royal family.

Roughly 130,000 women have registered to vote compared to 1.35 million men, according to The Associated Press. The General Election Commission says there are at least 5 million eligible voters out of a population of 20 million, but the figure could be much higher.

Nearly 6,000 men and around 980 women are running for candidates for local municipal council seats, AP reported.

With no pre-vote polls, it is impossible to predict how many of the 3,100 seats throughout the kingdom could go to women.

The election, which does not have quotas for females, is widely seen as an incremental but significant opening for women to play a more equal role in Saudi society.

Not many women are expected to win seats because of the large number of male candidates and because many of the female candidates have no previous campaign experience. Many women said they could not afford the high cost of running a visible campaign.

“I don’t consider winning to be the ultimate goal … but it is the right of being a citizen that I concentrate on, and I consider this a turning point,” said Hatoon Al-Fassi, general coordinator for the grassroots Saudi Baladi Initiative that worked closely with women to raise voter awareness and increase female participation in the election, AP reported.

“We are looking at it as an opportunity to exercise our right and to push for more,” she added.

Female candidates will also have to contend with a deep societal belief that women do not belong in public life.

“Her role is not in such places. Her role is at home managing the house and raising a new generation,” Abdullah Al-Maiteb told AP. “If we allow her out of the house to do such business, who is going to take care of my sons?”

Voting is scheduled to end at 5 p.m. (9 a.m. EST), and results are expected Sunday. The candidates will serve four-year terms that begin on Jan. 1.

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