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Kuwaitis Vote in National Election


Voters in Kuwait go to the polls Saturday in a general election many hope will end a long-running standoff between the ruling family and parliament. Some women candidates could also win seats in parliament.

Voting started early across the Gulf state of Kuwait to elect the 50-seat parliament. Women are voting and competing for seats in the legislature for only the third time in the nation's history. No female candidate won a seat in the previous polls.

But Fatima al-Abdeli is hoping she will be lucky this time. The women's rights advocate is running for a seat in parliament again after failing to get a seat in the previous two elections. She says now is the best chance for women.

"I think this is the best opportunity for women because when we came in 2006, they told us you need another 25 to 50 years for us to be in the parliament," she said. "You know, the bad performance of the parliament has helped us."

The ballot is taking place after the country's Emir, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, dissolved the 10-month-old parliament in March. It follows a number of disputes between elected MPs and the unelected Cabinet chosen by the al-Sabah family, who rules the fourth largest oil producing country.

Past parliaments have been dominated by conservative Islamists MPs who have resisted the royal family's push for reforms that would increase foreign investment and reduce Kuwait's welfare state. Past MPs have vetoed many projects, accusing the government of corruption and mismanagement of public funds. Candidate Walid al-Tabtabaei is a member of the Salafi Islamic party.

He says if he is elected he will act as a watchdog for government - not only protecting public spending and services but also preserving the cultural identity of Kuwait.

Al-Tabtabaei sees the role of women as part of that cultural identity. He, along with some members of his party, are calling for women candidates to step down and for women not to vote. He says participation by women in politics violates the teachings of Islam.

But Fatima al-Abdeli says she hopes this attack on women candidates will not stop them from getting seats.

"I hope 4 or 5 women can [get a seat in parliament] this time," she said. "I predict 5, I don't know I have this number and I hope it will be this number."

The first results are expected early on Sunday.

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