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Kuwait Conservatives Win in Parliamentary Vote - 2003-07-06


Results from Kuwait's parliamentary elections show a victory for Islamists, while the country's westernized liberals suffered a setback.

The vote results from Kuwait's all-male parliamentary elections showed losses for the liberals but, as expected, Kuwaiti conservatives were victorious.

Islamists won about one-third of the 50 seats in the national assembly, according to the results announced on Kuwaiti television.

Only about 15 percent of Kuwait's citizens, and none of its women, are allowed to vote. Of its 850,000 male citizens, only 99,000 cast ballots in Saturday's elections.

The outgoing parliament was already dominated by conservatives, many opposed to reforms such as gender equality and privatizing the economy. The results indicated the political makeup of the assembly had changed little.

Political scientist Shafeeq Ghabra said that while most of the incoming parliamentarians are Muslim conservatives, most back the royal-led government.

But Mr. Ghabra, the president of Kuwait's American University, said domestic reforms are possible if the al-Sabah ruling family's government really wants them. "It will depend, by-and-large, to what extent the government is willing to face a conservative-oriented parliament, even on the individual level, who come from areas that tend to be traditional. If the government is willing to go in that direction, it does have the chance, but it will need also a lot of tactics and vision and a process that is clear in that direction," he said.

Under Kuwait's system, the emir from the ruling al-Sabah family has the final say, but parliament has significant influence, and must approve all legislation. In the past, parliament has blocked the royal ruler's attempt to give women the vote.

In campaign rallies, liberal candidates had called for political reforms and had complained about the system which allows only male citizens above 21 to vote.

Some candidates accused the outgoing parliament of being more interested in winning favors for constituents than in dealing with Kuwait's economic and social problems.

Many Kuwaitis had also seen the ousting of Saddam Hussein after 24 years in power in neighboring Iraq, as well as the U.S. call for change in the region, as an opportunity to push Kuwait's ruling family to loosen its authority over the country, whose wealth, security forces, and media it controls.

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