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Islamists Gain, Women Fail to Secure Seats in New Kuwait Parliament


Kuwaitis went to the polls Saturday to vote for a new representative Parliament. It was the second time in Kuwait's history that women were allowed to run as candidates, but just as last time no women won enough votes to secure a parliament seat. In contrast Islamists made headway, winning half the seats in Parliament. Aya Batrawy has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

Women in Kuwait secured the right to vote just three years ago and it was the second time they were allowed to run as candidates for parliament. But none of the 27 women running for parliament, similar to the number who ran and lost in 2006, were able to secure a win.

Nearly 250 men ran as candidates for the 50-seat Parliament.

Although women account for 55 percent of the voters in Kuwait, unofficial turnout figures said that only half of the women eligible to vote went to the polls Saturday.

According to Mohsen Sharif, a reporter for the Kuwaiti-based Arab Times newspaper, it was a very difficult race for women candidates this time around.

Sharif said that the chances for a woman to win a seat in this election were very difficult because so many people in Kuwaiti society cannot accept a woman in parliament. He also said most women candidates, except for Dr. Aseel Al-Awadi, did not have the backing of a political party, which is important for any candidate to have.

But Sharif added that the idea of a woman holding a seat in parliament is on its way to becoming more accepted.

The male-dominated legislature saw Islamists winning half of the new seats in parliament. Sunni Islamists won 21 seats, four more than their number in the previous parliament.

Meanwhile, the moderate political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood party only won three seats, or half of what it had in parliament.

Minority Shiites also gained another seat, giving them five Parliament members. Shiites constitute about one-quarter of the Kuwaiti population.

Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah dissolved the Parliament in March. Although Kuwait's parliament is relatively powerful compared to others in the region, tension with the royal family has often produced only deadlock with cabinet ministers appointed by the Amir.

Many Kuwaitis believe that the clashes between parliament and the appointed cabinet reflect the struggles within the ruling Al-Sabah family.

Kuwait voters expressed hope that the newly appointed Cabinet will work successfully with the newly elected Parliament to reignite economic progress for the oil-rich country, which pumps around two-and-one-half million barrels of oil per day.

Parliament, elected for a four-year term, has legislative powers to vote ministers out of office, but cannot bring down an entire cabinet. The Kuwaiti Amir remains the ultimate authority in the country.

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