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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Kuwaitis vote in landmark polls
Parliament candidate Rola Dashti, left, with supporters at her campaign's headquarters
The poll has reversed traditional roles in a conservative state
Polls have closed in Kuwait's parliamentary elections which, for the first time, allowed women to cast ballots and stand as candidates.

The vote was held early and comes at a politically turbulent period in the conservative Gulf state's history.

A bitter dispute has broken out between the government and opposition MPs over increasing the size of constituencies as a way of preventing corruption.

Women make up 28 of the 252 candidates, as well as 57% of the electorate.

The BBC's Julia Wheeler in Kuwait says it was a big day for women there - even if they do not get elected this time round - and one they have long campaigned for.

However, female candidates hope to secure some seats in parliament, despite standing for the most part against seasoned incumbents.

Single sex voting

"It feels like a wedding day," said Salwa al-Sanoussi as she came to vote in the wealthy Dahyia constituency.

Map of Kuwait

Voters were seen arriving at polling stations in chauffeur-driven cars and being shaded by candidates' representatives with umbrellas as they walked in the scorching sunshine.

Early voting was heavy in this women-only polling station. Under rules written in 2005 men and women must vote separately.

Many candidates have made fighting alleged corruption in the ruling elite a key issue. There are frequent allegations of vote-buying by pro-government candidates and fears among reformists that Kuwait's rulers want to turn the parliament into a rubber-stamp body.

The cabinet had backed a bill that cut the number of voting districts from 25 to 10, but the opposition MPs wanted the number lowered further to five.

They argue that the existence of a large number of small constituencies in which the 340,000-strong electorate can vote promotes corruption and vote-buying.

Robust debate

A poster of election candidate Aisha al-Rasheed is defaced in Kuwait City
Some women candidates have complained of intimidation
Kuwait's parliament is considered to be the strongest of those in the Gulf monarchies, and the National Assembly often expresses differences of opinion with cabinet in a robust fashion.

However the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, has the final word on most government policies and key cabinet posts are held by members of the ruling family.

The 50 elected seats in parliament are held for four years, unless the emir dissolves the body.

All Kuwaitis over 21 have the vote, except members of the armed forces and those naturalised for fewer than 30 years.

See women voting in Kuwait

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