Election chief: We’re not ready for women’s suffrage

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced Monday that it was not yet ready for women participating in next month’s municipal elections as voters or candidates. “We are not ready for the participation of women in these municipal elections,” Election Commissioner Abdul Rahman Al-Dahmash said.Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Al-Dahmash, however, promised that women would be allowed to participate in the next elections.He cited a number of procedural reasons for the ban on women voting. “Participation of women in elections took place in most advance countries gradually,” he pointed out.He said the municipal elections would take place on April 23 all over the Kingdom at the same time. A person is allowed to vote only once in favor of a candidate in his constituency, he said.Al-Dahmash urged Saudis to elect qualified people to the councils in order to strengthen local bodies. “Municipal councils allow a large number of citizens to participate in the management of municipal services,” he said. The number of municipal councils in the country has been increased from 179 to 285 and polling stations from 631 to 855, he pointed out. The commission is now in the process of preparing a list of voters.The Kingdom held its first men-only municipal elections in 2005, when Saudis elected half the members of 179 municipal councils across the country. In May 2009, the government extended the mandate of the councils by two years, postponing a second vote expected that year. One of the reasons given was that it needed more time to organize the logistics so women could vote.“We have given wide powers to local election officials in various parts of the country,” the commissioner said. He urged the media to encourage citizens to participate in the elections. “We have a number of plans in store to further improve the role of municipal councils. Holding open meetings between the council and citizens is one of them,” he said. “Every week a day will be allocated to receive complaints from citizens.”Al-Dahmash said the Kingdom’s municipal councils have taken important decisions in order to improve municipal services and performance of municipalities. They also follow implementation of municipal projects and review municipal reports on revenues and expenditures.He said Municipal and Rural Affairs Minister Prince Mansour bin Miteb had solved many problems faced by these councils. “The ministry also conducted a number of workshops for council members to enhance their efficiency,” he said.Municipal councils in the Kingdom have held an average of 2,471 meetings each year. – Arabnews