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Low Female Turnout in Saudi Vote

A low turnout of women was seen this week in a landmark election in Saudi Arabia, in which women were allowed to participate for the first time.

Saudi women were allowed to participate in the election for a new board of directors for the Jedda Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) as both voters and candidates.

Jedda is a coastal city seen as the business capital of the kingdom.

The vote, which began on Saturday, lasts four days – women were allowed to vote on the first two days, and men on the last two days.

Some 17 female candidates are competing with 54 men for 12 positions on the board.

But the two-day voting for women ended on Sunday with a very low turnout compared to the men’s participation. Chairman of the JCCI board of directors Dr. Ghassan Al-Sulaiman told the Saudi daily Arab News that he did not expect a female candidate to win a seat easily due to the close competition.

More than 1,000 men turned up to cast their ballot on the first day of the male voting, compared to a total of 100 women who voted in the first two days, A-Sharq Al-Awsat reported.

The election is being presented as a major step in the kingdom toward promoting women’s rights. Liberals see the vote as a sign of progress in the kingdom, where women’s lives are often restricted.

The elections are also significant because of Saudi Arabia’s accession as the 149th member to the World Trade Organization.