In first poll in which women can vote and be candidates, female winners are declared across the conservative kingdom

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — At least 17 Saudi women have won seats on local municipal councils a day after women voted and ran in elections for the first time in the country’s history, according to initial results.

The women hail from vastly different parts of the country, ranging from Saudi Arabia’s second largest and most cosmopolitan city to a small village near Islam’s holiest sites. Though not many women were expected to win seats, even limited gains are seen as a step forward for women who had previously been shut out of elections.

The official Saudi Press Agency, quoted the head of the election committee in the northern region of al-Jawf as saying that candidate Hinuwf al-Hazmi won along with 13 men in that district. The news agency also reported that Mona el-Emery and Fadhila al-Attawy had won in the north-western region of Tabuk. Sabq.org, a news website affiliated with Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry, reported that a total of 17 women had been elected in various parts of

the country.

Turnout was low at the estimate of about 25%, as was registration. Only 1.32 million men and 130,000 women out of a population of 20 million voted – figures that highlight the unfamiliarity of the democratic process of election in the absolute monarchy.

But surprisingly quite a few number of women took seats in country’s historic elctions. “I think it’s great that several women won in different regions of Saudi Arabia,” said writer Maha Akeel. “It shows how much Saudi society has progressed on the issue of not only accepting but actually supporting women in public office, and this could mean that more change is to come. I’m surprised. We expected maybe one or two women would win.”

Rasha Hefzi, a prominent businesswoman who won a seat in Jeddah, thanked all those who supported her campaign and trusted her, pledging: “What we have started we will continue.” Hefzi and other candidates used social media to contact voters because of restrictions on women meeting men and bans on both sexes using photographs.

Lama Suliman, a candidate for a municipal seat, enters her vote in the ballot box in North Jeddah. MONIQUE JAQUES FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Lama Suliman, a candidate for a municipal seat, enters her vote in the ballot box in North Jeddah. MONIQUE JAQUES FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Women in Saudi Arabia vote for the first time

The first Saudi women ever to cast ballots in the kingdom hugged and took souvenir selfies during groundbreaking elections Saturday that marked another step in social reforms but failed to stir a major turnout at the polls.

“I’m about to do it,” 30-year-old government worker Jawaher al-Rawili told a friend over the phone before entering a women-only polling station in Riyadh. “It’s so exciting!”

The number of women winning seats is incredibly remarkable as the announcement came a day after the first nationwide election in which women were allowed to vote and run for office. Around 6,900 candidates competed for some 2,100 seats in local councils, the only popularly elected bodies that exist in this absolute monarchy. Around 980 of them were women.

A woman holds up her election card, which is No. 1, indicating that she was the first to sign up at voting registration at a girls high school in North Jeddah on Saturday.

A woman holds up her election card, which is No. 1, indicating that she was the first to sign up at voting registration at a girls high school in North Jeddah on Saturday.