Elections in Saudi Arabia
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Elections in Saudi Arabia have been historically rare. Municipal elections were held in 2005 and were planned for 2009. After two years' delay, they were held in 2011. In September 2011, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and stand in the 2015 municipal elections.
History of elections in Saudi Arabia
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The first municipal elections in Saudi Arabia took place in the mid-20s in the Hijaz cities of Mecca, Medina, Jeddah, Yanbu and Taif, as King Abdulaziz ibn Saud established local governments to replace Ottoman and Hashemite rule. Elections for other municipalities were held between 1954 and 1962 during the reign of King Saud, an experiment that ended under the centralization of King Faisal.
In 2005, elections for half the municipal councillors were held, with men voting for male candidates. In February 2009 it was announced that municipal elections scheduled for 2009 would be postponed indefinitely "for evaluation". A government spokesperson said that they were postponed to consider suffrage for women in the next elections. The municipal elections were eventually scheduled for and took place in 2011, but universal suffrage was delayed until the scheduled 2015 vote.
Saudi Arabia's Consultative Assembly (Majlis ash-Shura), with 150 appointed members, can propose laws but the proposals do not have the status of primary legislation due to the government's status as an absolute monarchy. No political parties are allowed in Saudi Arabia.
When Saudi Arabia held municipal elections in the 50s and 60s, women were not allowed to vote or stand for office. No further elections were held until 2005. Despite some expectation that women would be allowed to participate on that occasion, Saudi officials decided that they would not. It was argued that not enough women would be available to staff female polling stations (gender segregation is normal in the country) and that only a small number of women held ID cards, which would be required in order for them to vote. The same rules applied when elections were held in 2011. In September 2011, King Abdullah announced that women would be granted the right to both vote and stand for election from 2012, meaning that they will be entitled to participate in the scheduled 2015 municipal elections. He also stated that women would become eligible to take part in the unelected shura. Amnesty International described the decision as "a welcome, albeit limited, step along the long road towards gender equality in Saudi Arabia, and a testament to the long struggle of women's rights activists there".
As with many issues related to women's rights, women's suffrage has been a matter of public discussion in Saudi Arabia in recent years, with strongly held views on both sides. It is the last country in the world to retain a gender-specific ban on political suffrage.
Women are allowed to hold positions on boards of chambers of commerce. In 2008, two women were elected to the board of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. There are no women on the High Court or the Supreme Judicial Council. There is one woman in a cabinet-level position, as deputy minister for women's education.
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- Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, 24 February 2009, Hello, democracy – and goodbye
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