Two Saudi women win in landmark election

RIYADH: Two women have won seats on a Jiddah chamber of commerce, the first to win any elected position in Saudi Arabia, where women remain largely barred from political life, officials said on Wednesday.

Lama al-Sulaiman and Nashwa Taher were elected to the Jiddah Trade and Industry Chamber, officials at the chamber said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.

The chamber's elections on Saturday and Sunday were the first polls in Saudi Arabia in which women could either vote or stand. In the kingdom's first nationwide municipal elections early this year, women were neither allowed to vote nor stand as candidates. Electoral officials said women might be allowed to vote in the 2009 municipal polls.

The Jiddah Trade and Industry Chamber had initially rejected the nomination of 10 women for its board of governors, but the Government ordered it to allow female voters and candidates.

In the polls, Ms. Al-Sulaiman received 1,138 votes, and Ms. Taher received 1,015 votes, the officials said.

Women make up about 10 per cent of the 40,000 members of the Jiddah chamber. The two women will become members of an 18-person board that had previously been exclusively for men.

Jiddah, a port on the Red Sea coast, is the kingdom's second largest city after Riyadh.

King Abdullah, who ascended the throne in August, has said he wishes to promote the status of women, who are heavily restricted. They may not drive a car, and a male guardian must give permission for a woman to travel abroad.

Earlier this year, female business executives in the eastern city of Dammam were allowed to vote in their chamber of commerce polls, but only if a male guardian cast their ballots for them. — AP