Kuwait elects its first women parliamentarians

May 17th, 2009 - 4:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Kuwait City/Cairo, May 17 (DPA) Kuwait has elected its first women lawmakers in a move seen as a historic success for women in the Gulf state’s male-dominated parliament.
Four female candidates came in the top 10 positions in three electoral districts in Saturday’s vote, Kuwait’s official news agency KUNA reported Sunday.

With almost half of the votes counted, Massuma al-Mubarak, who made history by becoming the first Kuwaiti woman minister in 2005, was leading all candidates with a large margin in her district, the satellite news channel al-Jazeera reported.

The other women that were elected are liberal Aseel al-Awadhi, women’s rights activist Rola Dashti, and independent university lecturer Salwa al-Jassar.

Sixteen of the 210 candidates on the ballot were women.

While Kuwaiti women were granted political rights in 2005, voters in previous elections chose to elect a conservative parliament dominated by male Sunni Islamists and leading members of Kuwait’s powerful tribes.

Partial results also showed a setback for traditional winners and the advance of liberals. The figures showed that seven of the Shiite candidates are poised to win for the first time since 1975, according to al-Jazeera.

Kuwaiti voters on Saturday began casting ballots to choose their second parliament in a year.

The vote came two months after Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah dissolved the body after parliamentarians from the Islamist opposition sought to question his nephew, Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed, about his management of the economy and large government projects.

A voter turnout of 58 percent of roughly 385,000 eligible voters, chose 50 deputies for one of the region’s most active parliaments, al-Jazeera reported.

After the votes are tallied, the emir is to choose a prime minister, who will then appoint a cabinet.

Kuwaiti commentators have speculated that Sheikh Sabah may appoint Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf as prime minister, with the expectation that his position as the successor to the throne may lead parliamentarians to treat him with more deference than they treated the last prime minister.

Kuwait has gone through five governments since 2006.

In the past year, declining oil prices have taken a toll on the economy of the fourth-largest exporter of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

One of the new parliament’s first tasks would be to vote on an economic stimulus plan worth around 1.5 billion dinars ($5.2 billion).

Another would be to vote on proposals, notably a new, $15-billion refinery, to boost the country’s oil production.

“Many factors made the economic situation worse - the decline in oil prices, the global financial turmoil - but it is the ongoing political bickering between the ruling family and the country’s parliament that is making things worse,” Kuwaiti economist Adnan al-Dilaimi told Qatar’s al-Jazeera satellite news network.

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