A survey conducted by an independent agency in
Jeddah showed 87 percent of Saudis are backing women's participation
in the forthcoming elections. It also reflected the greater role of
media in educating the public on the polls.
In the second phase, elections were held in the
eastern and southern regions on March 3. The third and final phase,
covering Makkah, Madinah, Tabuk, Hail and Al-Jouf regions as well as
Qasim and the Northern Border Province will be held on April 21.
"Eighty-seven percent of 240 Saudis who took
part in the survey called for women's participation in the next round
of elections," said Dr Muhammad Fashetan, chairman of the SAS
Center for Opinion Survey and Consultancy in Jeddah.
He said the survey's participants included 50
teachers, 20 businessmen, six university students, 40 government
employees, 20 retired military officers, 20 media persons and 30
retired civilian officials.
Some women were actually happy to hear the survey
report, no matter how small the number polled was. For them it
indicated that there is a change in the way people perceive the matter
and some saw it as a result of the media's influence. But a
considerable number of women also expressed their doubts on the
credibility of the poll.
Nawal Hamed, a physician, said that the number
mentioned in the survey, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency,
is not representative of the Saudi population. "I have my doubts
on the significance of this number and I think the people polled
belong to a certain educated class that is why they seem supportive of
Rasha Muhamad, a Girls' Education Department
employee, echoed the same skeptical sentiments saying, "I do not
think the general Saudi public shares this feeling." Housewife
Lama Muhamad said that voting was the basic right for both men and
women, on the condition that they can offer something good. "But
this poll does not tell me that the resistance to women's
participation has changed." Saudi Arabia's landmark nationwide
municipal elections began on February 10, 2005 when Saudi men in the
Riyadh region cast their votes. Women, who make up more than 50
percent of the population, were excluded from the vote. As a result, a
number of ambitious women had announced their intention to run in the
historic polls, speaking openly of their manifestos.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal as well as
the chief election officer Prince Mansour ibn Miteb has expressed
their hope that women would be able to take part in the next round of
municipal elections to be held in 2009. "Municipal elections are
a new experience in the Kingdom and the short time given to the
Election Commission made it impossible to allow women's participation
this time," Prince Mansour told reporters.
The main reasons for barring women from the
election were administrative, an election official said, adding that
there was not enough women electoral staff to run voter registration
centers, while only a fraction of women had photo identity cards.
But many women rights activists were not happy with
the explanation and urged the government to appoint women to fill the
remaining seats as elections are conducted to pick half the members of
the country's 178 municipal councils. In a letter to Prince Mansour,
they demanded that the other half of the councils' seats be allocated
to women, Hatoon Al-Fassi said in early January. "We are
demanding the maximum (possible) and we believe it is our right,"
said Fassi, a history lecturer at King Saud University.
The Saudi Association for Media and Communication (SAMC)
will train a large number of Saudis to act as election monitors in the
upcoming Jeddah municipal elections scheduled for April 21.
This was disclosed by Dr. Ali Shewel Al-Garni,
president of SAMC, which is a member of the Coordinating Council for
Election Monitoring, along with the Saudi Journalists Association, the
National Society for Human Rights and other civic organizations.
Dr. Al-Garni said: "We are planning to send
election monitors to various democratic countries both in the West and
elsewhere to study election practices there. In the light of their
experience, the election laws could be re-examined, since it's our
first experience in this field."
Asked to comment on the two rounds of elections
held so far, he said the large number of candidates chasing a limited
number of seats has put the voters in a dilemma. "They don't know
how to deal with the situation. In Riyadh, for example, we had 600
candidates contesting seven seats, while in the Eastern Province, more
than 206,650 voters and 800 candidates were registered."
Dr. Al-Garni thinks one way out of this confusing
situation would be to have two-stage elections consisting of a first
round and an elimination round. Only candidates who have emerged
successful in the first round could prove their mettle in the second
round with a clear message and a firm commitment to the voter.
He observed that there should also be a ceiling on
election expenditure, as in one case a candidate spent more than SR10
million. By putting a cap on election expenditure, the focus would
shift to the candidate's merits, he added. This aspect would also come
up for review.
Dr. Al-Garni disclosed that the Ministry of
Interior has started registering Saudi women with its Civil Status
Department in preparation for issuing identity cards. He described it
as a significant move to empower women as voters in the next elections
four years from now. "We have noticed that lately the ministry
has intensified its drive through the mass media calling on women to
register their names in the branch offices of the Civil Status
Courtesy Arab News-Kuwait
Edited by Amanullah Bashar