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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK

World: Middle East

Kuwait elections go online

Election rallies are only held at night, when it is cooler

By Frank Gardner in Kuwait

Candidates in Kuwait's partliamentary elections, being held on Saturday, are using a new medium to broadcast their campaign - the Internet.

Kuwaitis say this is the first time that the Internet has played a role in their national elections, the last of which were held in 1996.

The medium appears to be ideally suited to Kuwait's special circumstances,

Daytime temperatures in July approach 45C in the shade, and few candidates or voters are venturing out of their air-conditioned homes before sunset.

But by clicking onto candidates' home pages, voters can listen to their speeches, seminars and even chat on-line with Kuwait's prospective MPs.

Information oasis

[ image: Parliament has operated since 1992 after earlier suspension]
Parliament has operated since 1992 after earlier suspension
In this conservative Muslim Gulf state, where public entertainment is hard to find, young Kuwaitis spend hours at home surfing the net.

Some of the 280 candidates competing for the 50 seats in parliament are now hoping to get their message across to these younger voters, who would not normally attend their late-night election rallies.

In normal years, the summer heat drives large numbers of Kuwaitis abroad to Europe and the US, although this year many have stayed at home because of the snap elections.

For those who have left, the Internet gives them a chance to catch up on the campaign back home.

Women's access

Just over a 100,000 Kuwaiti men are eligible to vote in the election out of a total population of 800,000.

Women, who have always been denied the vote in the past, have been promised full political rights next time round by the ruling Emir, in a decree which has still to be ratified by the new parliament.

In a land where contact between men and women who are not related to each other is frowned upon, Kuwaitis say the Internet will allow women voters to know more about the candidates without ever having to meet them.

If the decision to let women stand for public office is passed into law, female candidates will also be be to campaign through cyberspace, while preserving their Islamic modesty.

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