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Kuwaiti Women Exercise Right to Vote


In Kuwait, women turned out in large numbers to exercise their newly won right to vote. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Kuwait City on the parliamentary election, in which 28 women also competed for seats in Parliament.

As temperatures soared to near 50 degrees Celsius, women who came to vote for the first time ran a gamut of campaign workers handing out bottles of water or vanilla ice cream, as well as some last-minute encouragement about how to cast their ballots.

A woman backed up a golf cart, emblazoned with her candidate's name, ready to ferry overheated voters to the polling station entrance. Other volunteers escorted women to the voting area under umbrellas to protect them from the blazing sun, or spritzed them with water to cool off.

"And we're trying to help our candidate to get as many votes as he can," said a female campaign worker. "Everyone is having an umbrella, all the parties, all the candidates, and they're having spray waters, Evian. And, see, we have here a movable buggy, or car, and we hope for the best."

In this conservative Shi'ite district, most of the first-time voters arrived at the ladies' polling station wearing heavy black abayas and headscarves. Scores of women of all ages waited in line outside a schoolroom, patiently fanning themselves with campaign flyers to keep cool. Despite the heat, the crowd was all smiles.

In the air-conditioned cool of the voting room, a female election worker wearing an abaya and a pair of stiletto heels walked over to the wheelchair of an elderly woman.

Turning away from the male judge overseeing the voting, the older woman pulled aside her face veil, so the election worker could verify her identity. A helper then wheeled the woman over to the voting booth, so she could mark her ballot.

This is the first time that Kuwaiti women have had the right to vote, granted by parliament last year, and they said they would not be deterred by hot weather or long lines.

"It was a great feeling, really. It was really great," said one woman. "And this election, it's really a very difficult one, because, you know, most, maybe 90 percent of the Kuwaiti people are anti-corruption. And, if you have seen the youth, they brought us the hope again. You know, sometimes you get frustrated from all this corruption and political money, but, now, our hope is so high that Kuwait will win in the end, not the corruption."

Because women now far outnumber men on the voters' roll, the candidates have spared no effort to attract women's support. This is being described as one of the most intense election campaigns in Kuwaiti history, and competition has been fierce. The reformists - including both liberal and Islamist groups - are hoping to win enough seats to push their anti-corruption agenda in parliament.

In Kuwait City, turnout at the women's polling stations was impressive. But in other districts far from the center of town, the turnout among women voters was much lighter. Those outlying areas are considered the most conservative, tribal-influenced areas of Kuwait, where opposition to women getting the right to vote was heaviest.