Saudi Businesswomen Make History

Saudi businesswomen made history yesterday by casting their votes for the first time in the board election of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry. A large number of women turned out fervently to vote at the chamber’s women’s section. Women are not eligible to take part in the forthcoming nationwide municipal elections.

About 40,000 RCCI members including 2,750 women are taking part in the two-day election to pick 12 board members. No female candidates were contesting the elections. Princess Haila bint Abdul Rahman, director of the women’s section, said a substantial number of women had turned out to vote until late evening yesterday.

“This is for the first time Saudi businesswomen have been allowed to vote directly in a chamber election,” she said, adding that the 2,750 businesswomen registered with the chamber would be allowed to vote.

“We have appointed a full-fledged team to conduct the election at the women’s section,” she added. In the past, legal male agents voted on behalf of the women.

Some 1,700 businessmen and women had cast their votes by 8 p.m. last night to elect 12 board members. The two-day event is being conducted in four staggered morning and evening sessions at the RCCI headquarters amid tight security arrangements. The results are expected this evening. “The voter turnout since morning was consistent until evening today,” said Mansour Shafi Al-Ajami, a PR official at RCCI. A cross-section of voters seized the opportunity to speak highly about the election process and about the reform initiatives taken by the government.

The elections were conducted in two shifts from 8 a.m. to 12 noon and from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. yesterday. The whole process was manned by some 50 officials and a large number of security men.

“The voting was fully automated with special computer monitors installed to cast votes through secret ballots and register voters online,” said Al-Ajmi. “Escorts were allowed to accompany those businessmen who were unable to use and operate the computer-aided voting system,” he added.

Ibrahim Al-Harbi, chairman of the election committee and representative of the ministry, said the election was conducted smoothly without any obstacles.

The use of computers in voting, counting and displaying results would save time and ensure accuracy, he said. The chamber had allocated a hall adjacent to the headquarters for campaigning by candidates.

The RCCI’s board of directors is composed of 18 members of whom 12 are elected and six are nominated by the government. The new board then elects its chairman and two deputies. Asked about any hassle faced by the officials during the election, two candidates contesting the poll, Abdur Rahman Al-Jeraisy, current chairman, and Mishaal Al-Atawi said that “the whole exercise has been very smooth and peaceful.”

Jeraisy, however, refused to comment on the election and his candidature saying that “the regulations governing the election do not allow candidates to speak during the poll process.” At least two members of the royal family and a number of prominent businessmen including Prince Sultan ibn Muhammad Al-Kabir, who owns Al-Marai Group, and Sheikh Saleh Al-Matroudi, owner of Matroudi Group, were seen casting their votes.

The RCCI courtyard was overcrowded with voters and supporters canvassing for their candidates. Voting was also held at the chamber’s branch offices in Dawadmi, Wadi Al-Dawasser, Alkharj and Shaqra. But low turnout was reported in both Dawadmi and Wadi Al-Dawasser.

Twenty-one candidates are standing for office. The Tatwir group, led by Jeraisy, includes Saad Al-Moajjal, Abdul Aziz Al-Adel, Abdul Aziz Al-Ajlan, Muhammad Abu Nayyan, Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Khaled Al-Muqairen, Dr. Suleiman Al-Habeeb, Salah Al-Rashed, Nasser Almotawae, Suleiman Al-Muhaideb, and Fahd Al-Muammar.

The independents are: Nasser Al-Humaid, Fahd Al-Hamadi, Daghaileb Al-Otaibi, Dr. Abdullah Al-Humaidan, Fahd Al-Muhareb, Majed Al-Dossari, Muhammad Al-Ajami, Mishaal Al-Atawi and Mutlaq Al-Dassem.

According to the rules, a candidate must be a Saudi and at least 30 years old. For a university graduate the minimum age is 25 years. He should be a member of the chamber and should have at least three years’ experience in business or industry. Graduates are eligible even with one year’s experience. Candidates may not use either local or foreign media in their campaigns.

The RCCI is a non-governmental organization that provides crucial services at nominal fees to over 40,000 members of which more than 20,000 have permanent status.

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