09/26/2011, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA

Riyadh: even women can vote. But only in four years

King Abdullah announces on television that women have the right to vote and be elected to municipal councils. He added that some may be called to the Shura Council, an advisory body of the sovereign.
Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz announced yesterday in a speech on state television that women in Saudi Arabia will, in the future, vote and stand for municipal elections. The king also said that they have the right to be appointed members of the Shura Consultative Council, the body which advises the king, who has absolute power, and has the right to propose laws. Saudi Arabia, which applies a very strict version of Sunni Islam (Wahhabism) puts many restrictions on the activities and social rights of women, who can not drive vehicles, or leave the house or the country unaccompanied by a male relative.

"Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior clerics and others... to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from next term, "said Abdullah, who added:"Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote”. Ten years ago, the king said that women should have a central role in the Saudi Arabian economy. Since then there have been gradual changes, for fear of repercussions from the religious radicals. (09.20.2011 Ban on Saudi women leads to election boycott).

The king's decision, which is of great importance, even if the municipal councils have very limited powers, came after protests by women to obtain the right to vote. (Pictured: Saudi women demonstrate in front of a polling station, demanding inclusion). The king's decision tends to reduce the tension that has arisen around this problem in the country. More than five thousand men will compete Sept. 29 in the municipal elections, the second ever held in Saudi Arabia. The other half of the councilors are appointed by the government. The next elections will take place in four years.
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