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Kuwaitis Go to Polls for Parliamentary Elections - 2003-07-04

Kuwait will hold general elections on Saturday, but few analysts see much chance that they will lead to any major political reforms in the oil-rich nation.

Pro-West Kuwait was the first state among the conservative Gulf Arab nations to have an elected parliament. But some Kuwaiti observers say the tiny Gulf emirate still has a way to go toward true democracy.

There are no political parties in Kuwait, parliament itself is all male, and only about 15 percent of its 850,000 citizens - and none of its women - are eligible to vote.

The ruling al-Sabah royal family controls almost everything in Kuwait, including its wealth, security forces and media.

Some 250 candidates are running for 50 seats in the country's parliament. But many Kuwaitis say a few new deputies will change little in Kuwait.

Kuwaiti writer and commentator Mohamed Rumaihi, himself a former undersecretary of culture, says that for a parliament able to effect real change - including political and economic reform - it must be part of a larger, liberal democracy, as he puts it, including all elements of society.

"We don't even have political parties, after 40 years of a practicing democracy," he said. "This is the predicament of Kuwait today, and I think that will be going on for the next coming years unless people are aware more than ever that they should push for their rights."

But former Kuwaiti parliamentarian Ali al-Baghli says with Saddam Hussein no longer in power in next-door Iraq, Kuwait's citizens can hope for change.

"This is the first election since the departure of Saddam, and we certainly, all Kuwaitis, hope that this will turn a new page," he said.

Many Kuwaitis, Islamists and liberals alike, see the departure of Saddam Hussein after 24 years in power, and the call by the United States for change in the region, as an opportunity to push for greater democracy. But few analysts and observers believe these new elections will do much to change the political scene in Kuwait.