Saudi men to vote as women wait



Saudi men to vote as women wait Jeddah: Saudi men are to vote Thursday in municipal elections, the last all-male affair in the Muslim kingdom after a royal decree this week giving women the right to cast ballots in four years.

Some 5,324 candidates will compete for 816 seats in the elections -- only the second in Saudi Arabia's history -- to fill half the seats in the country's 285 councils. The other half are appointed by the government.

The first elections in the Gulf kingdom, which has a population of around 27.5 million, including around 19 million Saudis, were held in 2005, but the government extended the existing council's term for two years.

Around 1.2 million male voters have registered to take part.

The election is just four days after Saudi Arabia's absolute monarch Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in the next municipal elections in four years, a historic first for the ultra-conservative country.

Women's rights activists had long fought for the right to vote in the kingdom, which applies a strict version of Sunni Islam and bars women from driving or travelling without the consent of a male guardian.

And despite their frustration at having to wait until 2015 to exercise that right, female activists were rejoiced by the decision by the 86-year-old king, who was spared Arab spring protests that toppled autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

"We are heading towards a new era that will see women obtain their rights," said Maha Futaihi, spouse of the kingdom's Labour Minister Adel Faqih, who is also a community activist.

PTI