Kuwaiti women win parliamentary seats

Winning parliamentarian candidate for the third constituency, Dr.Rola Dashti, center, celebrates her victory with supporters at her campaign head quarters in Surra, Kuwait City in the early hours of Sunday, May 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Gustavo Ferrari)

KUWAIT CITY -- Kuwaitis elected female parliament members for the first time and rejected a number of Islamic fundamentalist candidates in a weekend vote that many hoped would bring stability to the country's rocky political scene.

Women gained the right to vote and run for office in 2005 but failed in two previous elections to win seats in the 50-member parliament. Four women were elected in Saturday's vote, according to official results read out by judges on state-owned TV on Sunday.

Kuwait has led the region in giving its people democratic rights. It has an elected parliament that wields considerable power, but the Cabinet is still chosen and led by a ruling family that holds ultimate power.

Radical religious politicians have fought against extending political rights to women. At the same time, they have pushed for full implementation of Islamic law, or Sharia, in the oil-rich U.S. ally.

"This is a message that the Kuwaiti society has started to move away from such movements that are based on hatred," political commentator Sami al-Nisf said.

Winning parliamentarian candidate for the third constituency Dr.Aseel al-Awadhi celebrates her victory at her campaign head quarters in Surra, Kuwait City in the early hours of Sunday, May 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Gustavo Ferrari)

Al-Nisf said the roughly 40 percent turnover in the election was a sign that voters were tired of the confrontational style of some lawmakers.

"Frustration with the past two parliaments pushed voters to seek change. And here it comes in the form of this sweeping victory for women," said one of the women elected, Massouma al-Mubarak, who was also the country's first female Cabinet minister.

The 62-year-old political science teacher, who once complained that she could not vote while her male students could, scored the most votes in her district.

All of the female winners have Ph.Ds from universities in the United States. Among them is economist and women's rights activist Rola Dashti, who battled in court for political rights for Kuwaiti women years before the legislature approved the suffrage bill.

The other two women are education professor Salwa al-Jassar and philosophy professor Aseel al-Awadhi.

Winning parliamentarian candidate for the second constituency, Salwa Al Jassar, right, receives a bouquet of flowers congratulating her victory at her campaign headquarters in Shamiya, Kuwait City, in the early hours of Sunday, May 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Gustavo Ferrari)

Al-Nisf said the win by female candidates was an achievement to be proud of not only in Kuwait but around the region.

"They made it without organized political parties supporting them or a quota system. This is a huge leap forward for Kuwait's democracy," he said.

The poor results for fundamentalist Muslims, he said, represented a rejection of their efforts to push for social restrictions.

They have succeeded in banning coeducation at universities and clamping down on public entertainment.

Those politicians won 16 seats on Saturday, down from the 24 seats they held in the previous house. While Islamists from the country's Shiite minority kept their five seats, Sunni religious groups lost eight seats in a sizable rejection by voters.

Winning parliamentarian candidate for the first constituency, Dr. Massouma Al Mubarak, center, celebrates her victory with supporters at her campaign headquarters in Bayan, Kuwait City, in the early hours of Sunday, May 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Gustavo Ferrari)

Meanwhile, liberal politicians who call for economic reform, more openness to the West and more freedoms gained one seat for a total of five.

Kuwait has no officially recognized parties. Candidates either belong to political groups, run independently or represent their tribes.

Comments